Sundance cancels in-person film festival due to virus surge

NEW YORK — Just two weeks before it’s held in Park City, Utah, the Sundance Film Festival is canceling its in-person festival and returning to an all-virtual edition due to the current coronavirus outbreak.

Festival organizers announced on Wednesday that the festival will start as planned on January 20 but will move online. The festival had been planned as a hybrid, with screenings both in Park City and online. Last year’s Sundance was also held virtually because of the pandemic.

“It was a tough decision to make,” the festival said in a statement. “As a nonprofit, our Sundance spirit is to make something work against the odds. But with the number of cases expected to peak in our host community the week of the festival, we knowingly cannot putting our staff and community at risk Undue stress on Summit County Health Services and our more than 1,500 staff and volunteers would be irresponsible in this climate.

The cancellation of an in-person Sundance is a blow to an independent film industry that has struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic. Last year’s virtual Sundance, where films like “Summer of Soul (or The Revolution Will Not Be Televised)” and “CODA” caused a stir, proved that a digital festival can still foster big hits. But filmmakers, executives, audiences and journalists had hoped that Sundance – America’s premier film festival and a launching pad for young filmmakers – could once again kick off a new year of cinema with premieres packed into the mountains of the ‘Utah.

The Sundance Institute, which organizes the festival, took the time it could to make its decision. In late December, as the highly contagious omicron variant of COVID-19 increased cases across the country, the festival announced that vaccination boosters would be required for attendees, audience capacity would be reduced, and no food or drink would be permitted in theaters. This was in addition to previous protocols which required proof of vaccination, indoor masking and other requirements.

But with omicron sending the number of cases to record highs, organizers have finally shut down the idea of ​​bringing crowds back to Park City.

“We don’t believe it’s safe or feasible to bring together thousands of artists, audiences, staff, volunteers and partners from around the world for an 11-day festival when overwhelmed communities are already struggling. to provide essential services,” the festival said.

Sundance, which runs Jan. 20-30, earlier announced a shortlist of 82 features selected from more than 3,700 submissions. Sundance director of programming Kim Yutani said at the time that “this year’s program reflects the troubling and uncertain times we have lived in for the past year and a half.”