Winter Adventure Guide: A Sundance plot twist |

Winter Adventure Guide: A Sundance plot twist

Stephen Merchant, left, speaks to attendees of the "Fighting With My Family" cast panel at the Stella Artois lounge on Main Street Monday afternoon, January 28, 2019.
Tanzi Propst/Park Record

The 2021 Sundance Film Festival is going through changes.
While the festival has survived recessions, wars and other calamities throughout its existence, the coronavirus pandemic has put a kink in the 2021 schedule.

Instead of running for 11 days in Park City, this winter’s festival will run for seven days, from Jan 28-Feb. 3., and will be held primarily virtually through a custom-designed online platform.

All films will be available online in the United States, and a select few will be offered globally. The filmmaker panels and other festival offerings,
such as the New Frontier program, will also be available virtually.

Film lovers across North America will have access to a limited number of in-person screenings through drive-ins, independent arthouses and a network of local community partnerships.

In Park City, Sundance organizers plan to program screenings with limited seating capacity at The Ray theater, health and safety guidelines permitting.

“Even under these impossible circumstances artists are still finding paths to make bold and vital work in whatever ways they can,” said Festival Director Tabitha Jackson.”

So Sundance, as a festival of discovery, will bring that work to its first audiences in whatever ways we can. The core of our Festival in the form of an online platform and socially distanced cinematic experiences is responsive to the pandemic and gives us the opportunity to reach new audiences, safely, where they are. And thanks to a constellation of independent cinema communities across the U.S. we are not putting on our Festival alone. At the heart of all this is a belief in the power of coming together, and the desire to preserve what makes a festival unique — a collaborative spirit, a collective energy, and a celebration of the art, artists, and ideas that leave us changed.”

Digital platforms are nothing new to Tara Hein-Phillips, Sundance Institute’s chief product officer, who was involved with transitioning all of the institute’s 2020 summer labs to the Sundance Co//ab virtual program when the pandemic hit.

“Luckily for us, we have Sundance Co//ab that we launched just over a year ago, so we already have a space where people can come together in live, online environments all year for small and large events,” she said.

Co//ab has already presented a number of webinars, member question-and-answer gatherings and masterclasses without many glitches, Hein-Phillips said.

Betsy Wallace, managing director and chief financial officer for the Sundance Institute, said pivoting the events to a digital format presents the opportunity to engage audiences and artists worldwide at a time when large gatherings are not prudent.

“We want to make sure we continue to reach everyone the best we can,” she said, but added that Sundance would still like the festival to be a live event in 2022 and beyond. “We are just trying to make sure we keep in mind public safety and public health and doing these things at the right time.”
Still, there is no substitute to hosting an in-person festival, according to Wallace.

“I think having the festival here in Utah is part of the reason why it’s been so successful,” she said. “We have such a great relationship with the state of Utah, Park City, Summit County, and our residents. And for me the relationship has been remarkable.”

Throughout the years, the Sundance Film Festival has helped launch or magnify the careers of filmmakers such as Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh, Darren Aronofsky, James Wan and Jim Jarmusch.

It introduced movie lovers to films like “Get Out,” “Saw,” “The Blair Witch Project,” “Napoleon Dynamite” and “Whiplash,” among many others.
A Bureau of Economic and Business Research study by the University of
Utah found the event is the most popular independent film festival in the US, with more than 120,000 people attending in 2019.

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