On Monday, Tabitha Jackson, Sundance’s new festival director, announced some of the changes in a letter posted Monday on the festival’s website. While next year’s festival will still include events in Park City, new changes will decentralize the festival to help it adapt to ongoing COVID-19 precautions.
According to Monday’s letter, festival organizers are planning for a scenario in which socially distanced groups are allowed to gather, but there is no widely available COVID-19 vaccine yet — thus reducing air travel to Utah, and nixing some things that previous festivals have relied on, such as crowded shuttle buses and waitlist tents.
As part of next year’s decentralized festival, at least 20 independent and community cinemas outside of Utah will host films from the official festival programming slate, along with unique programming of each theater’s own choosing. According to Monday’s letter, many of these partnerships are still in the exploratory discussion phase.
Additionally, next year’s festival will significantly expand its online offerings. Jackson wrote that audiences will be able to view the festival’s curated program and participate in special live events through a new online platform. This online platform, she added, “will be the nucleus of the Festival, … designed to create a participatory experience which brings all the elements and locations of the Festival together.”
Currently, the 2021 festival is scheduled to begin on Jan. 28, but Jackson wrote that organizers are considering a different start date. This possible change, she said, would put more time between the festival and the U.S. presidential inauguration.
“Our model intentionally allows us to dial up or dial down the live gatherings (especially in our Utah home) and Festival length as conditions dictate,” Jackson wrote. “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. A Festival that will serve our communities where they want to be, given conditions of pandemic and economy.”
This will be Jackson’s first Sundance Film Festival as its director. She was announced as director at the close of this year’s festival. Jackson previously served as director of the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program. She replaces longtime Festival Director John Cooper, who will remain with the festival as its emeritus director. In his new role, Cooper now oversees special projects.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 festival was going to celebrate the Sundance Institute’s 40th anniversary. The institute has not yet announced how COVID-19 precautions/changes will impact these 40th anniversary celebrations.