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Sundance Film Festival Unveils Plans for Socially Distanced 2021 Edition

Courtesy of Arthur Mola/Invision/AP

The next edition of Sundance Film Festival will take place in Park City, Utah — and New York, and Ohio, and Tennessee, and Kansas, and California, and Florida.

The 2021 festival, which runs from Jan. 28 through Feb. 3, is rolling out in numerous cities across the country as the annual gathering goes virtual because of the coronavirus pandemic. On Wednesday, Sundance Institute outlined plans for the digital event, which will also include screenings at drive-in theaters, independent arthouse cinemas and cultural organizations.

“Even under these impossible circumstances artists are still finding paths to make bold and vital work in whatever ways they can,” says Tabitha Jackson, the newly minted festival director. “So Sundance, as a festival of discovery, will bring that work to its first audiences in whatever ways we can.”

In keeping with tradition from past Sundance Film Festivals, movies will premiere throughout the day starting on Thursday, Jan. 28 at 6 p.m. Mountain Time. Each of the 70-plus feature films will debut in a dedicated time slot, followed by a live Q&A with key creators and talent. Multiple films will be showcased about every three hours between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. Mountain Time. All movies will return to the online platform two days after their premiere for a second screening, offered on demand for 24 hours.

“The core of our Festival in the form of an online platform and socially distanced cinematic experiences is responsive to the pandemic and gives us the opportunity to reach new audiences, safely, where they are,” Jackson added. “And thanks to a constellation of independent cinema communities across the U.S. we are not putting on our Festival alone. At the heart of all this is a belief in the power of coming together, and the desire to preserve what makes a festival unique — a collaborative spirit, a collective energy, and a celebration of the art, artists, and ideas that leave us changed.”

Sundance has yet to announce the films that will debut at this year’s festival, but Jackson expects the lineup will be announced in mid-December. She stayed mum on any potential premieres, but hinted that filmmakers are enthusiastic about the hybrid 2021 event.

“Artists are excited about reaching new audiences around the country,” Jackson said Wednesday in an interview with Variety. “Nothing is going to beat being in the Eccles Theater. We recognize that, and won’t pretend otherwise. But in a pandemic, this is the best we’ve come up with and we’re happy about the opportunities with it.”

By expanding the festival beyond its traditional Park City post, Sundance created a network of partnerships throughout the U.S. to bring feature films and custom local programming — consisting of talks, events and socially distanced artist meet-ups.

The Short Film and Indie Series, formerly named the Indie Episodic, will include 50 short films and world premieres of four episodic works. These will be available on demand on the festival platform for the full length of the 2021 event.

The New Frontier program, a showcase for dynamic work that intersects film, art and technology, will showcase 14 projects in the program. For the first time, audience members will be able to engage with the works, artists and each other through a bespoke virtual platform, accessible through computer and VR headsets. The gallery hosts the complete slate of live performances, augmented reality and virtual reality.

“It’s thrilling and terrifying that this is going to be the first major festival of the new year,” Jackson told Variety. “There’s so much possibility in this. I feel both the privilege and responsibility to deliver in whatever way we can. I won’t be sleeping until the festival is over.”

Participating U.S. cities are as follows:

Alabama: Birmingham with Sidewalk Film Festival Sidewalk Film Center, Sidewalk Drive-In

Arizona: Tucson with The Loft Cinema The Loft Open Air Cinema

California: Montclair with American Cinematheque Mission Tiki Drive-In Pasadena with the Rose Bowl Rose Bowl Drive-In San Francisco with The Roxie Theater Roxie Theater, Fort Mason Drive-In

Colorado: Denver with Denver Film Sie FilmCenter

Florida: Key West with Tropic Cinema Tropic Cinema, The Key West Lighthouse, The Truman Little White House, The Ernest Hemingway House and Museum Miami with Third Horizon and O Cinema New World Symphony SoundScape Park and South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center

Georgia: Atlanta with Atlanta Film Society The Plaza Theater, Plaza Drive-In, Dad’s Garage Drive-In Macon with Macon Film Festival Douglass Theatre

Hawaii: Honolulu with Doris Duke Theatre at the Honolulu Museum of Art (HoMA)

Iowa: Iowa City with FilmScene FilmScene at The Chauncey

Kansas: Wichita with microcinema, Wichita Art Museum, Groover Labs

Kentucky: Louisville with The Speed Art Museum Speed Art Museum

Louisiana: New Orleans with New Orleans Film Society The Broad Theater

Maryland: Baltimore with Maryland Film Festival Stavros Niarchos Foundation Parkway Theater

Massachusetts: Brookline with Coolidge Corner Theatre Coolidge Corner Theatre

Michigan: Detroit with Cinema Detroit

Minnesota: Minneapolis-St. Paul with FilmNorth Riverview Theater

New York: Pleasantville with Jacob Burns Film Center Jacob Burns Film Center & Media Arts Lab

Ohio: Columbus with Gateway Film Center Gateway Film Center

Oklahoma: Tulsa with Circle Cinema Circle Cinema, Circle Cinema Drive-In, Admiral Twin Drive-In, Philbrook Museum, OSU-Tulsa, Tulsa University, Gilcrease Museum

Pennsylvania: Philadelphia with BlackStar Film Festival

Puerto Rico: San Juan with Asociación de Documentalistas de Puerto Rico (AdocPR) Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico (MAPR)

South Carolina: Columbia with The Luminal Theater Spotlight Cinemas Capitol 8

Tennessee: Memphis with Indie Memphis Malco Summer Drive-In Nashville with Belcourt Theatre Belcourt Theatre

Texas: Austin with Austin Film Society AFS Cinema Dallas with Aviation Cinemas Texas Theatre Houston with Houston Cinema Arts Society MoonStruck Drive-In, DeLUXE Theater

Utah: Park City The Ray Salt Lake City with Salt Lake Film Society

Washington: Seattle with Northwest Film Forum

Variety's Rebecca Rubin contributed to this post.


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