Sundance Film Festival Director Tabitha Jackson On How 2021 Edition Will Play Out In Park City, Online And At An Art House Near You

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The Sundance Film Festival on Wednesday unveiled more details about its 2021 edition, which will span not only its Park City hub as previously announced but also several art houses and drive-ins nationwide, along with an online viewing platform so that all can partake and enjoy the fest during the pandemic.

The initial lineup of filmswill be announced in a couple of weeks, along with the full talks and events programs. This year’s Sundance runs January 28-February 3.

Of note, the only cinema that will be operating at this point in time in Park City will be the Ray, a venue that Sundance oversees. The Eccles at Park City High School, one of the fest’s prime premiere cinemas, is currently closed. I understand an awards program will occur, though it is in the early stages of planning what its exact format will be.

Sundance’s extending programming to art houses across the nation is in an effort to revive those cinemas during the pandemic recession and also to share the festival’s spirit (see the list of venues below). It’s still being worked out exactly which films from the fest will screen at the individual theater partners, though one goal is to get the Los Angeles-area drive-ins listed below to premiere every Sundance 2021 feature at their venues. The satellite screens will feature a curated list of Sundance selections, while also hosting events and artist meet-ups. The Sundance Institute will program screenings at the Ray in Park City as well as the Rose Bowl and Mission Tiki drive-ins in L.A. There is a chance more cinemas, in particular those abroad, may be added.

“These partners are the backbone of independent artistic communities across the country, where filmmakers are born and cinephiles are developed,” said newly appointed Sundance Film Festival director Tabitha Jackson, who hit the ground running this year, promptly planning for a pandemic-impacted 2021 fest. “We’re entering these partnerships because a healthy ecosystem for artists and audiences requires that independent cinemas across the country survive and thrive.”

While this is certainly an anomaly set-up given the pandemic, Jackson tells Deadline “There are lots of elements of this that we’re trying. We’re taking this opportunity to experiment with some things, I would bet that community partnerships are going to be the norm. How they express themselves in terms of films being screened during the festival that’s to be discussed with industry filmmakers, rightsholders, etc.”

Day One films are set to debut on the Sundance digital platform starting Thursday, January 28, at 6 p.m. MT. Seventy-plus feature titles will premiere online in a dedicated time slot, followed by a live Q&A. That live portion is key: Many fall film festivals offered up pre-recorded conversations of filmmakers and cast chatting following their film premieres, and the whole idea here for Sundance is to create as much of an interaction and congregation as possible between talent and festivalgoers. It’s all part of creating a dynamic, collective spirit to the festival.

Multiple films will premiere simultaneously roughly every three hours from 10 a.m-10 p.m. MT. Viewers can also begin films any time within three hours of their premiere’s start. All films will return to the platform two days after their premiere for a “second screening,” offered on-demand for 24 hours. The press will not be able to see the movies in advance, but rather initially with everyone else at a pic’s first premiere. 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-plus feature lineup on the platform will be closed-captioned on-demand, and Q&As will be live-captioned.

Sundance is a place where following a film’s world premiere reviews are aflame and industry buzz is ignited, culminating in big deals (i.e., this year’s Palm Springs pickup by Neon and Hulu for $22 million, the biggest acquisition ever for Sundance). So can this new order of digital and national art house plays fill that void?

“Because it’s part of the function of a festival to generate energy, buzz and excitement around new work and new voices, at the beginning of this year, we didn’t know if we’d have work to show. We’re seeing a huge amount of work now. We have the work,” Jackson said. “One of the roles of the festival is to give that work the best possible launch pad. Even though the core of the festival is online, we’ve been thinking hard of how we generate buzz. That’s why we’re having live premieres slotted at particular times.”

“We’re making sure eyes are on the films, that they’re being seen by general audiences, industry and press at the same time so they can be launched in the culture, and thus propel the work through distribution channels.”

“We want to work with our satellite screen programs and drive-ins to make sure that we’re generating as much as we can, a single conversation in a moment about a single film. We’re not an on-demand service,” she added.

The festival’s digital platform will also feature many of the panels, fireside chats, the Artist Lounge and musical performances associated with the event from its partners and sponsors. The platform’s Main Street will act as both an homage to the iconic Park City thoroughfare and as an extension of the festival’s core programming.

Sundance will program 50 short films and world premieres of four episodic works. Fourteen works will be curated for the fest’s New Frontier section, which showcases innovative pieces at the crossroads of film, art and technology. The digital platform will allow virtual attendees to engage with the works, the artists, and each other via a bespoke platform, accessible via computer and VR headsets.

Sundance Film Festival tickets and passes will be sold to the general public on a full-run, single-day and single-screening basis beginning January 7.

“We’ll see what works for us, the industry and the artists,” Jackson said. “I wouldn’t want this [coming year’s] festival to be seen as a blueprint for the future, but it’s being responsive to the moment and allowing us to learn what we want the future to be.”

Said Sundance Institute executive director Keri Putnam: “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. 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.”

Participating U.S. partner organizations and Sundance Film Festival cinema locations include:

Alabama: Birmingham with Sidewalk Film Festival

Sidewalk Film Center, Sidewalk Drive-In

Arizona: Tucson with The Loft Cinema

The Loft Open Air Cinema


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


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

South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center


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 The 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


Memphis with Indie Memphis

Malco Summer Drive-In

Nashville with Belcourt Theatre

Belcourt Theatre


Austin with Austin Film Society

AFS Cinema

Dallas with Aviation Cinemas

Texas Theatre

Houston with Houston Cinema Arts Society

MoonStruck Drive-In, DeLUXE Theater


Park City

The Ray

Salt Lake City with Salt Lake Film Society


Seattle with Northwest Film Forum

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