Could Sundance be heading to Chicago in 2021?

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(Sundance Director Tabitha Jenkins)

The impact of COVID-19 has been devastating to business, especially hitting the film and TV industries. The 2021 Sundance Film Festival will now adjust to the pandemic by holding its 40-year-old event not just in Park City, but also in at least 20 different cities across the country, as well as in an online format.

According to TheWrap, the festival’s new director Tabitha Jackson, shared a letter with the press and said the festival is in exploratory discussions with cinemas in “LA to Louisville, from New York to Nashville, from Austin to Atlanta, from Detroit to Denver, from Minneapolis to Mexico City.”

She adds Sundance will be curated for the specific communities and will each host their own slate of films along with their own programming, while the full slate will still play in Park City.

“The 2021 Sundance Film Festival will be a grand partnership of communities,” Jackson noted in her memo. “Their communities acting as vibrant hubs of creativity, maker culture, and adventurous audiences. This plan acknowledges the vital role of the independent cinema network in our ecosystem.”

There will still be an online hub for the festival, with audiences able to view the curated program of films online, as well as take part in other live discussions and events. The idea is to limit the many live events taking place within Utah while keeping the structure of the festival in tact.

“The structure as we are currently conceiving it will remain intact — a festival that for this year is live and digital and is co-created with partners,” Jackson said. “A festival that will serve our communities where they want to be, given conditions of pandemic and economy. A festival that is more than the sum of its parts, but whose parts are all driven by values and the opportunity to think a different thought.”


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Read the full letter below:

Dear Friends,

As we plan for our 2021 Festival — my first in the Director’s chair — and with submissions now open, I wanted to give you an early insight into how we are thinking. This is not an announcement, but rather an invitation into the process of building something together this year. There are very few certainties in these uncertain times, but we are lucky to have as our North Star a well-defined and decades-long mission of championing the independent voice. 

That mission — driven by our values of inclusion, equity, and accessibility — becomes more urgent with every passing day. We also have a world of artists making bold powerful work that creatively expresses a lived experience, reveals its complexities, delights in its absurdities, and challenges its injustices. And we have you — this community — which over the years has empowered us to do something extraordinary every January in Utah. With these elements magic can surely happen.

Although it is fair to say that I had not factored a global pandemic and an international reckoning around racial justice into my job application, I did know that as we write the next chapter in the incredible history of the Sundance Film Festival I would want to pose a slightly counterintuitive question: “Where do we begin?”

I began with our founder, Robert Redford, who imagined a different landscape for independent artists, one where the work they wished to make could be developed and supported outside of the studio system. He created a new space for imaginative possibility and creative community. We call that space Sundance.

We spoke about our animating purpose, about the importance he places on gathering together in person, and about the role of art itself. But it was this provocation that I found as profound in its generosity as it was liberating in its effect: “I invite you to think not just outside the box, but as if the box never existed.”

So with that we began to imagine a kind of Sundance Film Festival unbound:

An edition respectful of the public health situation, responsive to the moment, and  reimagined in and for extraordinary times;

An edition doubling down on our values of access, equity, inclusivity, and independence;

An expanded Festival in which we preserve the possibility of in-person gathering  while providing access to those unable or unwilling to travel;

A unique celebration of independent cinema and community; 

A single festival expressed locally, globally, in-person, and online.

Although this planning had started as a response to an economic downturn and global health crisis, it became an opportunity for creative and expansive thinking. 

In the Atacama Desert in Chile, there is an array of 66 telescopes turned toward the stars. Alone each one is not powerful enough to capture the extent of the universe astronomers are seeking to know. But combined, this multiplicity of perspectives has the power to reveal the structures of the system we inhabit, which had been hidden from us by distance and time.

This is my image for the Festival: a powerful array of perspectives, of talent and artistry — combining with audiences in homes and cities and across countries to reveal new truths. An accessible, inclusive Sundance Film Festival whose form this year enables us, together, to see differently.

So enough of the conceptual stuff — what might this look like on the ground? 

Seven months out, we are actively planning for the following public health scenario: We are allowed to gather, but there is no widely available COVID-19 vaccine. With the knowledge that as of now socially distanced gatherings are permitted in Utah and other states, but travel is greatly reduced — and large events, shuttle buses, and crowded waitlist tents can not be supported which may limit the number of theaters we use during the Festival in Utah.

We hope for better news about the pandemic by January 2021, but we also must plan for the greatest challenges. We have discovered that the planning is in fact an invitation to think differently about the form of the Festival. 

Sundance will additionally be looking to the guidance of the film festivals taking place this fall, many of which are plotting similarly hybrid online and in-person festival experiences to adjust to the coronavirus outbreak.

Reel Chicago has reached out to Sundance. Watch for updates to this story.


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SOURCE: Sundance Institute

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