Sundance Scraps In-Person Program For Full Virtual Festival Due To Omicron Surge

The in-person Park City component of the Sundance Film Festival will not be occurring for the second year in a row, with the near 40-year-old cinema event to remain virtual for its January 20-30 run. This was always Plan B for Sundance in the face of an unpredictable pandemic.

“The Festival’s in-person Utah elements will be moving online this year,” read a statement from Sundance today.

The news isn’t shocking considering how a majority of entertainment industry events have been either postponed or canceled during the first two months of this year, with Sundance’s live edition being a final holdout. Deadline heard in recent days that some sponsors were mulling whether to pull from the live edition of the Utah festival, in addition to festival buyers and talent reps cancelling their trips. But Sundance contends that the complete segue to a virtual edition boils simply down to the unpredictable spread of the Omicron variant, and the irresponsibility health-wise to hold a festival which draws an estimated 116K people from around the world. According to recent stats as of Jan. 3, there were 14,7K  newly reported Covid-19 cases in Utah, and 17 related Covid deaths.

The decision by the festival to go completely virtual comes 15 days before Sundance’s opening night. Certainly, this is a blow to local Park City businesses, hotels, restaurants and hospitality who were counting on a return to a financial normalcy after the 2021 festival went completely virtual. In 2020, the Sundance Film Festival contributed a reported $135M to the state of Utah, generated over 2,7K jobs and also yielded $17.8M in state and local tax income.

Before Christmas, when many industry events were cancelling, Sundance announced extended safety in-person guidelines including reduced screening capacities, elimination of concession sales, vax card protocols for screenings and events, testing of staffers, etc.

“Despite the most ambitious protocols, the Omicron variant with its unexpectedly high transmissibility rates is pushing the limits of health safety, travel and other infrastructures across the country,” reads today’s Sundance statement.

“This was a difficult decision to make,” Sundance continued, “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,” the statement goes on, “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.”

“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,” Sundance continued.

While Sundance is a non-profit organization, they count on the festival as their primary annual fundraiser. At the same time, Sundance remains optimistic having built a greater audience after last year’s online edition, which was very user-friendly and efficient to use. The festival looks forward to growing those viewers, last year clocking 600K views from the its online edition. The fest’s seven satellite exhibition partners around the country will continue to host screenings for their local communities from Jan. 28-30. Due to the complete switch to online, Sundance’s screening schedule will be adjusted.

“While we’re disappointed to not provide the full hybrid experience and gather in-person as intended, audiences this year will still experience the magic and energy of our Festival with bold new films and XR work, the discovery of new storytellers, direct encounters with artists, and an innovative globally accessible social platform and gallery space,” adds the statement, “Our partner community will also be adding a vibrant dimension to the festival with a rich mix of conversation, talent talks and events.”

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