While we’re sure to miss our annual trips to the mountain community of Park City this January, Sundance 2021 is taking the festival experience to new heights. The Sundance Institute has unveiled plans for the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, scheduled from January 28 through February 3, 2021. The hybrid Festival will be offered digitally via a custom-designed online platform alongside drive-ins, independent arthouses, and a network of local community partnerships.
The online expression of the Sundance Film Festival will provide global access for storytellers and audiences alike to come together, experience artists new work, connect with one another, and participate in conversation. All films in the program will be available online in the United States, with certain films opting for global availability. The full talks and events program, as well as the New Frontier section for XR and emerging media, will be available globally.
“Even under these impossible circumstances artists are still finding paths to make bold and vital work in whatever ways they can,” says Tabitha Jackson, in her first year as Festival Director. “So, Sundance, as a festival of discovery, will bring that work to its first audiences in whatever ways we can. 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. 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.”
“Our Festival footprint has changed this year, but we are excited to bring an incredible community together in new ways to engage with new artists and new stories — whether they’re joining us for the first year or have been for decades,” adds Sundance Institute Executive Director Keri Putman. “Our ambition is for everyone to come together, safely, wherever they may be, and participate in screenings on our platform at the same time. The Sundance team has consulted with artists, worked with incredible partners, and built a plan to welcome new audiences and capture a true Festival spirit.”
As at past Sundance Film Festivals, films will premiere throughout the day, with day one films set to debut Thursday, January 28, at 6 p.m. U.S. Mountain Time. During the 2021 Festival, each of the 70+ feature films will premiere online in a dedicated time slot, followed by a live Q&A. Multiple films will premiere simultaneously roughly every three hours from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. U.S. Mountain Time. All films will return to the platform two days after their premiere for a “second screening,” offered on demand for 24 hours. The platform’s movie player is powered by Shift72 and developed with best-in-industry security and access practices. In a Festival first, the entire 70+-feature lineup on the platform will be closed-captioned on demand, and Q&As will be live-captioned.
The Short Film and Indie Series programs, focused on creative storytelling outside the feature format, will include 50 short films and world premieres of four episodic works. These will be available on demand on the Festival platform for the entire festival.
Since its launch, the Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontier has served as a showcase for dynamic, innovative work at the crossroads of film, art, and technology — and 2021 is no exception, with 14 works in the program. For the first time ever, adventurous audiences around the world will be given the chance to engage with the works, the artists, and each other via a bespoke virtual platform, accessible via computer and VR headsets. The New Frontier Gallery hosts the complete slate of live performances, AR, VR, and other emerging media works. Cinema House is the Festival’s fully immersive, big-screen theater, and Film Party is an interactive social space where the entire community of accredited Festivalgoers can safely gather together again.
Expanding beyond its Utah home, the Festival has created a network of partnerships to bring feature films and customized local programming — talks, events, artist meet-ups — to communities across the country. In addition to these Satellite Screen partnerships, the Institute will program screenings at The Ray in Park City and the Rose Bowl and Mission Tiki Drive-Ins in Los Angeles, health and safety guidelines permitting. Each Satellite Screen will create and host their own events, sharing local cultural conversations with broader Festival audiences, with most also screening selections from the 2021 program.
“These partners are the backbone of independent artistic communities across the country, where filmmakers are born and cinephiles are developed,” comments Jackson. “We’re entering these partnerships because a healthy ecosystem for artists and audiences requires that independent cinemas across the country survive and thrive.”
Programming details for films at these screens will be announced later this month, and plans are expected to evolve in conjunction with the COVID-19 pandemic health and safety guidelines.
One thing’s for certain – while Main Street will not be bustling this January, the Institute has uncovered a path to bring the festival experience to film lovers around the globe.