Amy Roberts: The show must go on…line
I’m not sure how something can be entirely expected, yet also seem shocking at the same time, but last week when organizers of the Sundance Film Festival unveiled their 2021 plans, the confirmation that Park City will be largely void of PIBs, paparazzi and celebrities this January felt both a little surprising and completely predictable.
We knew they were moving towards a virtual event and exploring other venues. We also knew doing so was really the only logical option. There’s no socially responsible way to pack movie theaters, bars and gifting lounges full of people in the middle of a pandemic. Still, though, once the details about the online viewing platform and plans to screen films at cinemas and drive-ins across the country were announced, the reality of it all felt a little jarring.
When I first moved to town somewhere around 20 years ago, most locals enjoyed the festival to some degree. We could still get tickets to films, still get into a restaurant, and we all still knew someone who could get us “on the list.” Even those who were not fans of the fest would just shrug and go skiing. They recognized the event to be a tolerable inconvenience. It was just one week of crazy after all.
But things changed. Quickly and drastically. Sundance was no longer the only busy time in town. There wasn’t much of a respite from one event to the next. The traffic and lack of parking became fairly constant. The cost of living here continued to rise. Big corporate names rented spaces on Main Street and took control over who got added to those coveted lists. Then word got out that Sundance was the best time to ski and somehow the resorts were just as packed as the theaters. That was the reusable straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. Suddenly, a lot of locals gave the festival two thumbs down.
And that’s kind of how it’s been for a while now. Sure, there are still local film buffs who live for those 11 days every January. But these folks are harder and harder to find. And they aren’t nearly as loud as those in the “anti” camp. For years, “the antis” have been saying Sundance has outgrown our town. It should be moved to the off season; as if there is one anymore. They’ve been steadfast in their demands of city leaders to safeguard their neighborhoods from increased traffic, shut down rambunctious parties and limit corporate rentals.
Both the city and Sundance have worked to mitigate the event’s impact, but much of what happens is out of their control. So the complaints continued and hating on Sundance morphed into a locals’ pastime of sorts. It will be interesting to see if the dissing turns to missing over the next several weeks. As they say, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.
While we might not necessarily miss the obnoxious PIBs, the clogged streets or the tourists who insist on wearing their lanyards at the grocery store, surely we’ll miss the revenue, the excitement of randomly scoring a last-minute ticket to a premier, the subtle coolness that comes with knowing the spotlight is shining on our town. Those whose livelihoods depend on the festival will miss a lot more. Like the ability to pay their rent.
Though by the sounds of it, we might want to get used to a little less Sundance. In a recent interview with the online entertainment news site, Deadline Hollywood, Sundance Film Festival director Tabitha Jackson noted the partnerships they’re forming with cinemas around the country aren’t likely to be a 2021 one-off. “We’re taking this opportunity to experiment with some things, I would bet that community partnerships are going to be the norm. How they express themselves in terms of films being screened during the Festival that’s to be discussed with industry filmmakers, rightsholders, etc,” she said.
While nothing is certain, it appears there’s at least some possibility the festival will look to expand to additional cities and venues long after this pandemic. For now, though, the most pressing question is this: If there are no Sundancers in Park City, will we still get a massive snowstorm?
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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