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Sundance outlines a socially distanced fest, including reduced seating, shorter event

The Filmmaker Lodge during the Sundance Film Festival, shown in 2020, sometimes becomes crowded as festival-goers gather for discussions about the craft. Sundance has devised a plan for the 2021 festival that is designed to hold the event in an era of social distancing, including putting limits on the capacity at venues.
Park Record file photo

Update: The Park City Council on Tuesday evening approved a one-time change for the 2021 festival, reducing the length from 11 days to seven days, and changing the dates to Jan. 28-Feb. 3. It had been scheduled from Jan. 21-31.

The organizers of the Sundance Film Festival have crafted a plan for 2021 that shortens the event and changes the dates, among other alterations, moves that are designed to allow the top marketplace for independent films in the U.S. to hold the festival with the likelihood the spread of the novel coronavirus will not have been stopped by January.

City Hall staffers provided some of the details about the ideas for Sundance in a report that was drafted in anticipation of a Park City Council meeting that was scheduled on Tuesday. The report offers some of the most notable information about the plans since Sundance in late June indicated it was devising concepts for the festival that would spread the event through venues across the country.

The key points involve reducing the length of Sundance from 11 days to seven days. The dates would also be altered. The event had been scheduled from Jan. 21 until Jan. 31. The proposal calls for a festival running Jan. 28 until Feb. 3. City Hall, meanwhile, would suspend a requirement that Sundance stage 70% of the festival in Park City and surrounding Summit County. The suspension of the 70% requirement would allow Sundance to use the out-of-state venues that are key to the blueprints for 2021.

Sundance would not be required to provide transit services it normally would offer. The municipal property used by Sundance would be reduced to just the Park City Library.

The package of alterations is seen as a one-year measure that would allow Sundance to be held in a socially distanced manner and within any health guidelines that could be in place in January.

The change in the dates proposed by Sundance is something that had been mentioned earlier. The director of the festival, Tabitha Jackson, said at the time the later dates would provide room between the presidential inauguration in January and the start of Sundance. It seems the space between the inauguration and the start of Sundance is at least partially meant to discourage the possibility of a large demonstration marking the swearing-in ceremony in Washington, D.C. There would be concerns about the spread of the sickness if there was a march like the giant one that was held during Sundance in 2017 as President Trump took office.

City Hall and Sundance provided limited details early in the week about the details of the plans for 2021. Some were expected to be discussed at the City Council meeting that was scheduled on Tuesday. A list of venues, as an example, was not available early in the week.

The City Hall report, however, says “Sundance proposes to significantly reduce scope of the event including the amount of theatres and venues.” It also says the capacity of the theaters is likely to be cut by 75% from a normal year, meaning there would be far fewer of the prized screening tickets in circulation as Sundance greatly limits the number of people at each showing.

There had been numerous unknowns about the Sundance plans in Park City in recent months, as it became clear the festival would not be held as it is normally with the spread of the illness continuing. It appears the blueprints outlined this week allow both Sundance and City Hall to start the detailed planning for the festival in earnest. The blueprints also provide guidance to various business sectors in Park City as they ready for Sundance. Finalizing the festival dates, as an example, is critical to the lodging industry while the dates are also important to those hoping to reach deals for temporary space on Main Street for corporate setups.


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