Record editorial: Sundance makes right call, though it’s a difficult one for Park City
Since late spring, it’s been clear the 2021 Sundance Film Festival would be different. How drastic the changes required to keep everyone safe from COVID-19 would be, though, remained an open question.
We now know that hope of the festival at all resembling the typical event in Park City has been left on the cutting room floor.
The Sundance Institute made it official Wednesday when it announced that this edition of the festival will be held primarily online. Only one in-person venue will operate in Park City, at a reduced capacity — with even that contingent upon the health situation as the event grows nearer.
Amid the onslaught of depressing news this year, this comes as a particularly difficult blow, even if it is not a surprising one given the realities of the pandemic and the ongoing surge here and around the country.
Cinema lovers will still be able to watch the slate of films virtually and partake in other elements of the festival program. For all intents and purposes, however, there will be no Sundance in Park City this winter.
Nixing nearly all of the in-person elements of the festival in Park City is unquestionably the right decision. Sundance deserves credit for making it, as difficult as it must be to take the festival in a drastically different direction for one year and forego part of what makes the 11 days so special every January: the human connections.
But just because it was the prudent move doesn’t make it any less disappointing for filmgoers and those who benefit from the festival, most notably the countless businesses and workers that capture a slice of the tens of millions of dollars Sundance generates in the Park City area each year.
For a minority of residents, the absence of the festival for a year may be welcome. Some have grown weary of the myriad impacts that come with the Sundance spotlight, from traffic jams to the difficulty of finding a restaurant reservation during the festival’s packed opening weekend.
Those concerns are legitimate — and officials have taken steps to heed them — but are outweighed by the economic boon of playing a starring role in one of the world’s premier film festivals. And that’s not taking into account the prestige of hosting Sundance or the special experiences available to Parkites who embrace the mayhem.
Fortunately, Sundance organizers are adamant that this is a temporary change. The festival that has become such a significant part of Park City’s DNA will be back in 2022, assuming the pandemic is behind us.
We can’t wait.
Right now, though, that seems a long ways off as we confront the prospect of a winter that won’t be lit up by the Sundance stars.
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