Normally, this time of the year I would be wrapped in my black parka, brand new snow boots, armed with cell phone, charger and laptop dripping with anticipation kicking off a whole new flock of filmmakers participating in the Sundance Film Festival.
Needless to say, due to COVID and the possibility of sponsoring a super spreader event, Sundance, like so many other film festivals have taken their party virtual. So, how is that gonna work? One of the most endearing things about attending is running through the snow and grabbing a shuttle to all those screenings, panels, parties and networking events. How do you party and network online? What about those conversations on a shuttle bus that may shift your different gaze or perspective on a film that hadn’t entered your consciousness?
Well, Sundance Institute Executive Director, Keri Putnam, Sundance Film Festival Director Tabitha Jackson and Producing Director of the Sundance Film Festival Gina Duncan assembled like the Virtual Film Fesitval Avengers representing the absolute best in “girl power” broke it all down during the Day One Press Conference. Normally held on Main Street at The Egyptian, the conference was done virtually sponsored by partners Acura, Sundance TV, Chase Sapphire, Adobe and the State of Utah.
Putnam kicked off the discussion with a heartfelt thanks and appreciation to all journalists and participants, while Festival Director Tabitha Jackson enthusiastically spoke about their first time ever virtual fest “…it’s about energy… what helped us figure out what this festival would look like virtually came from the artists themselves…we knew we would have to create and design moments of connection.” Jackson jokingly, yet seriously pointed out that “everything feels new and different to me because I’ve never done it before and I can be a festival director right now not wearing pants.” Seriously though “..the incredible programming team is great at seeing where the artists take us. Artists are the same as everyone else, they’ve been on the front lines of racial injustice and suffering economically. ” Having said that she noted that there was a significant uptick in the amount of documentary submissions and touted the popular New Frontier program as being “off the charts…it’s a virtual spaceship with a fully social experience…you may see me pop in there from time to time.”
What about those shuttle post-film discussions. Welcome to Film Party, which allows participants the same experience of having those invigorating post film discussions virtually – just as if you were piled and jammed in on that shuttle bus on the mountains of Utah.
Also new to the Sundance family, former film exhibitor and Producing Director (for just 90 days thus far), Gina Duncan hyped up the friends and family aspects of going virtual online with satellite screenings making it a hybrid experience. She also shared that normally as a former festival participant, like most of us, she was …”checking her schedule, figuring out where, when are how to grab food,” but this time she was lucky enough to screen ahead of time. As a self-proclaimed geek, I could appreciate the glee shared about a great Sci-Fi conversation ‘Power of Story’ panel with Hannah Beechler led by Turner Classic Movies Host Jacqueline Stewart.
Rounding out the excitement, Keri Putnam shared, “we had ten months to listen and learn from so many colleagues who were so generous from other festivals about what worked for them and what’s been consistent in representing the ideals of purpose for the festival and the festival community. ” As always, Sundance supports it’s own and has fourteen films in he program supported by the Sundance Institute. All the talks and events this year are free and it is our hope that everyone will be able to participate. Personally, Putnam is “…excited about Kimberly Crenshaw moderating a conversation with Bryan Stevenson centered around the narrative currently swirling in the US.”
It goes without saying that Black Lives Matter and its movement forced many to make a significant shift personally and professionally. “With BLM, we had to look inward as an institution as to who we are. ” Jackson echoed that sentiment by adding, “…it made us look with different eyes on the way we do things, how we have conversations and conduct ourselves as gatekeepers of resources. These issues are not new and are the same issues we have been dealing with for centuries.”
All three ladies were in agreement about the ongoing and exhausting conversation that often times swirls about the desire to have more inclusion /obstacles for women filmmakers. Jackson simply stated, “…the year that we don’t have to talk about the obstacles for women filmmakers is a day I’m very much looking forward to.
And what is their fondest wish for the 2021 Sundance Film Festival going virtual? Jackson summed it simply sand eloquently, “to see the things we’re not looking for.” The 2021 Sundance Film Festival kicks off today through February 3rd.