Sundance plans to move most screenings online with just one live Park City venue |

Sundance plans to move most screenings online with just one live Park City venue

Main Street as seen during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
Tanzi Propst/Park Record

Sundance Film Festival organizers on Wednesday outlined plans to move most of the programming online while operating just one live venue in Park City, a blueprint forced by the continued spread of the novel coronavirus and one that will be especially damaging to the area’s economy as the most lucrative event on the community’s calendar effectively moves from a starring role to a cameo appearance.

Sundance in the summer indicated the event in 2021 would be significantly scaled back and held in a socially distant manner, but the details of the festival were not publicized until the release of the information on Wednesday. Organizers previously said the festival would spread screening rooms across the U.S. while keeping a base in Park City.

Under the plan, Sundance would operate The Ray theater at Holiday Village as the only venue in Park City or the Snyderville Basin. There would be up to three screenings per day at The Ray with social distancing required of the audience and cleanings between the films. Sundance anticipates between 25 and 50 people would be allowed at each screening. There is normally seating for 532 people at The Ray.

The intentions to screen films at The Ray and the capacity depend on discussions with City Hall and the Summit County Health Department. Those decisions will be made as the festival dates near.

In a typical year, Sundance would occupy space across the community, turning places like the Eccles Center and the Egyptian Theatre into screening rooms and setting up other venues on or just off Main Street.

“The spirit will still be there,” Betsy Wallace, the chief financial officer and managing director of Sundance, said in an interview as she acknowledged a “new reality with COVID.”

Wallace said the 2021 plan is seen as one-year measure with the goal of returning the following year with a live festival in Park City, depending on the health situation at that time.

The festival is scheduled to run Jan. 28 until Feb. 3, shortened from the normal 11 days. Screening will be shown online and in a variety of locations outside of Utah. The online screenings will be the core of the festival and include question-and-answer sessions with the filmmakers and cast, as is typically the case at the festival. Sundance says several films will be shown simultaneously at intervals of approximately three hours starting at 10 a.m. Mountain time and ending with screenings beginning at 10 p.m. That schedule, organizers say, closely follows the traditional screening grid with the hopes of creating the same sort of energy of the live films. Two days after a first screening, films will be shown online, in an on-demand setting, for 24 hours. There will be 50 short films available through the on-demand option during the entire festival. The cutting-edge New Frontier programming will be put on a virtual platform. The opening-day films are scheduled to screen at 6 p.m. on Jan. 28.

Sundance says there will be a cap on the number of people allowed at each online screening, meaning there will not be an unlimited number of tickets available to each film showing. Wallace said film distributors and rights holders requested the restriction. The online attendance capacity limit on the screenings will be larger than the capacity of a film during a typical Sundance. Ticket and pass options that will be available include a single day, a single screening or the entire festival. Prices are not yet set. Ticket sales for the general public are scheduled to start Jan. 7.

A virtual Festival Village will offer sponsor events while a virtual Main Street will, according to organizers, “act as both an homage to the iconic Park City thoroughfare and as an extension of the Festival’s core programming.”

It had been expected for months that Park City would not play the same role during Sundance as it normally would. Park City leaders earlier suspended a requirement that Sundance stage 70% of the festival in the city and surrounding Summit County. The suspension of the 70% requirement allowed Sundance to move forward with the venues outside the state.

The plan, though, will leave Park City without an important economic driver at a time when there are broad concerns about business during the winter. Sundance in 2020 had an economic impact of more than $167 million, according to a study conducted on behalf of the organizers. Much of the overall total was spent in the Park City area with the lodging industry especially benefitting.

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