Sundance Film Festival expands to 20 cities or more, takes films online amid COVID crisis

Sundance Film Festival expands to 20 cities or more, takes films online amid COVID crisis

NEW YORK – Sundance Film Festival, held annually at altitude in the snowy reaches of a Utah ski town, is expanding beyond the mountains.

Sundance, the premier independent film festival, isn't giving up its home in Park City. But on Monday, organizers said selections from next year's edition will also play in at least 20 other cities, radically enlarging Sundance's scope and connecting it more deeply with local communities.

A "bespoke slate" of movies from Sundance's selection will screen concurrently in indie and community cinemas throughout the U.S. and internationally. Sundance organizers say they are in discussions with theaters in New York, Los Angeles, Nashville, Atlanta, Detroit and Mexico City, among others.

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The marquee of the Egyptian Theatre promotes the 2020 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Festival organizers said selections from next year’s edition will also play in at least 20 other cities, radically enlarging Sundance’s scope and potentially connecting it more deeply with local communities.

The plan is one of several Sundance is pursuing as it prepares for a very different festival as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Sundance, where festival-goers crowd into shuttle buses, bars and local cinemas at the height of winter (and flu season), is re-imagining what it can be should social distancing protocols still be in effect in January 2021.

Like other festivals, Sundance expects to straddle both physical and virtual worlds. Along with the nationwide expansion, Sundance is also readying a more robust digital hub. Last week, Toronto International Film Festival put forward plans for a much scaled-down event in September. Other festivals, including Cannes Film Festival in France (May), Tribeca Film Festival (April) and South by Southwest (March), were forced to cancel because of COVID-19, though each preserved some components online.

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Tabitha Jackson, Sundance's new festival director, says the circumstances give the festival an opportunity to further its reach and improve accessibility. That's especially important for festival predicated on launching new voices in cinema and expanding inclusion.

"We are reminded daily of the power of what is made newly visible to us, the importance of what we look at," Jackson wrote in a memo to festival staffers. "My hope for this edition of the Sundance Film Festival is that through a multiplicity of perspectives held by artists and audiences in their various communities, we will also come to feel the power of where we look from."

Jackson stressed the need for flexibility. That includes, she says, potentially postponing a week, starting on Jan. 28 to move away from Inauguration Day on Jan. 20.

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