The Sundance Film Festival has canceled its ambitious plans for in-person events in Utah later this month. Instead of hosting red carpet premieres, parties and panel discussions in the traditional hub of Park City, the 2022 festival will now be mostly virtual for the second consecutive year, a decision made by festival organizers in the face of the fast-moving Omicron variant.
“While it is a deep loss to not have the in-person experience in Utah, we do not believe it is safe nor feasible to gather thousands of artists, audiences, employees, volunteers, and partners from around the world, for an eleven-day festival while overwhelmed communities are already struggling to provide essential services,” said a statement released by the festival.
The statement also added, “This was a difficult decision to make. As a nonprofit, our Sundance spirit is in making something work against the odds. But with case numbers forecasted to peak in our host community the week of the festival we cannot knowingly put our staff and community at risk. The undue stress to Summit County’s health services and our more than 1,500 staff and volunteers would be irresponsible in this climate. It has become increasingly clear over the last few days that this is the right decision to make for the care and well-being of all of our community.”
The seven satellite locations around the country also scheduled to host screenings will move ahead as planned, local conditions permitting.
The cancellation of Sundance’s in-person activities in Utah comes as many other entertainment events struggle against the emergent Omicron variant. The Grammy Awards, scheduled for Jan. 31, were postponed shortly before Sundance’s announcement. The Critics Choice Awards had already abandoned plans for a Jan. 9 show, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Governors Awards had been postponed from Jan. 15. The Palm Spring International Film Festival also canceled its awards gala, then called off the entire festival.
Late last month Sundance had announced increased health safety protocols in an attempt to salvage the in-person events in the festival’s longtime home of Park City. Boosters were to be required for all attendees, and masks would have been required to be worn at all times during screenings and events.
Last year’s Sundance Film Festival was conceived as a mostly online event and reached the largest audience in the festival’s history. A number of films from 2021 are competitive in the current awards season, including Siân Heder’s “CODA,” Rebecca Hall’s “Passing,” Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s “Flee” and Amir “Questlove” Thompson’s “Summer of Soul.”
The program for the 2022 festival, announced in early December, includes more than 80 feature films, with documentaries on Bill Cosby and Kanye West, the first feature film directed by Lena Dunham in more than 10 years, a documentary on Lucille Ball directed by Amy Poehler and a look at the rivalry between boxers Julio César Chávez and Oscar De La Hoya directed by Eva Longoria Bastón. The high-profile U.S. dramatic competition includes films starring John Boyega, Dakota Johnson and Regina Hall, among others.
Among those responding to the news were leaders of other festivals that have seen their recent editions affected by the pandemic. Cameron Bailey, chief executive of the Toronto International Film Festival, noted online, “Courage and strength to our colleagues at Sundance and all the invited filmmakers. Hard call but the right one.” Likewise, Eugene Hernandez, director of the New York Film Festival, posted, “It was the right move, obv. Looking forward to discovering as many Sundance films as I can, from home, again this year.”
When the program was first announced, filmmaker Carlota Pereda, whose film “Piggy” will premiere in Sundance’s midnight section, spoke about the distinction between having work seen in-person versus virtually.
“Look, you want your movies to be seen. That’s why you do it,” Pereda said. “You want to reach people and you want the film to find its public.
“I love going to the theater. Obviously it is the best thing,” Pereda noted. “As long as people experience the love of film, I’m just happy whenever they do it or wherever they do it.”
The 2022 Sundance Film Festival will still begin its 11 days of programming on Jan. 20. The sale of single tickets had previously been pushed back to Jan. 12 for members and Jan. 13 for the general public. Updates from the festival will be forthcoming for pass, package and ticket purchasers who had already bought tickets for the canceled in-person events.