Sundance 2021 concept accounts for inauguration, a crowded day of celebration or protest |

Sundance 2021 concept accounts for inauguration, a crowded day of celebration or protest

A large crowd demonstrated during the Sundance Film Festival as President Trump took office in 2017, rallying for a variety of causes. Up to 9,000 people marched. Sundance organizers are considering shifting the dates of the event in 2021, citing the swearing-in scheduled in Washington, D.C., in January as a reason.
Park Record file photo

It is Jan. 21, 2021, and a large crowd of Sundance Film Festival-goers is gathering on Main Street to celebrate the swearing-in of Joe Biden as president the day before.

Or, it is Jan. 21, 2021, and a large crowd of Sundance Film Festival-goers is gathering on Main Street to protest the swearing-in of Donald Trump for a second term in the Oval Office.

Regardless of the outcome on Election Day, Sundance organizers, who this week outlined concepts for the possibility of a radically altered festival to account for the continued spread of the novel coronavirus, understand the festival, as of now, is scheduled to start the day after the presidential inauguration.

The swearing-in could embolden the people at Sundance. If the incumbent is reelected, the overwhelmingly left-leaning Sundance crowds could be seething with the prospects of another four years of the Trump administration. And if Biden were to win the White House, the Sundance crowds could be in a jovial mood as they arrive in Park City. Either way, it seems likely there will be those who will want to mark the presidential inauguration in some fashion as Sundance starts.

The celebrity-heavy opening days of Sundance in a typical year offer a prime setting for demonstrations. They are normally the busiest days of the festival, there is the opportunity for substantial media coverage with a worldwide entertainment press corps in Park City and lots of the attention always seems to be on what’s happening outside the screening rooms on those days before the focus tends to shift to the films later on.

But the coronavirus is expected to continue to be a threat by January, and, if that is the case, social distancing guidelines could remain in place as the festival starts. Sundance in announcing concepts for 2021 noted the overlap between the inauguration and the festival, which is slated to run Jan. 21-31. The Sundance organizers cited the swearing-in scheduled in Washington, D.C., as a reason why one of the ideas under consideration is shifting the dates of the festival to have it start on Jan. 28. That would “provide some room between the U.S. presidential inauguration and the start of the Festival,” Tabitha Jackson, the director of the festival, said in a message providing early information about the concepts for 2021.

Sundance did not offer details about the role the inauguration date is playing as the festival calendar is considered, and it is unclear how important the swearing-in will be as the organizers finalize the dates. Sundance it appears, though, is amid a broad reimagining of festival possibilities in 2021 with the inauguration date as a part of the exercise rather than a focus.

There has consistently been an overlap between Sundance and inaugurations over the years, and the festival crowds have gathered to mark previous swearings-in. Sundance organizers, City Hall and public health officials would all be wary of a gathering on the day of the inauguration if the coronavirus continues to spread at that point. There have been several smaller demonstrations in recent weeks showing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, conducted in a socially distant manner, but they did not draw the crowds that an event marking the inauguration likely could. It could also be more difficult to stage a large event on Main Street, the location of other gatherings marking a new presidency, to account for social distancing than it was at the recent demonstrations at Dozier Field and the Olympic Welcome Plaza.

The last two presidential ascensions — Trump in 2017 and Barack Obama in 2009 — prompted gatherings in Park City during Sundance. A cheerful crowd of nearly 1,000 people celebrated in a Sundance zone on lower Main Street as Obama took the oath of office, watching the swearing-in on flat-screen televisions. The Trump inauguration, though, drew what was, by a wide margin, the largest known protest in Park City’s modern era. Up to 9,000 people walked on Main Street in the Women’s March on Main the day after the Trump inauguration, displeased with the new administration.


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