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Sundance Film Festival Cancels In-Person Screenings Amid Omicron Surge

Are we reliving 2020 all over again? 2022 seems to be off to a pretty hectic start, with many movies already being delayed, award ceremonies postponed indefinitely, and now Film Festivals outright transformed. The Sundance Film Festival announced today that its plans for in-person screenings are now scrapped, and the festival would then move to purely virtual screenings.

This was announced a mere two weeks before the festival is set to begin, on January 20. The Festival previously required booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to attend in-person screenings, whilst also reducing capacity of theaters and banning eating or drinking, but Omicron’s sheer pace of contagion has caused Sundance to throw in the towel and do a second fully virtual festival, with the same platform as in 2021.

Through a press release, CEO of Sundance Institute Joana Vicente and Festival Director Tabitha Jackson explained that “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. […] 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. 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.”

On the Festival experience, Vicente and Jackson also added that “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. Our partner community will also be adding a vibrant dimension to the festival with a rich mix of conversation, talent talks and events. The Festival is important not only to the artists and audiences who gather each year, but also as the most essential fundraiser for underwriting the Institute’s year-round artist support work. We believe in the transformative power of artists and their work. Today, as we navigate all that the pandemic throws at us we go back to what is certain: Gathering together – in whatever way we can – is profound. Community matters. We follow the artist.”

This is not a shocking move at all for Sundance to completely pivot to a virtual festival, especially when it was announced just a few minutes after the Grammys postponed indefinitely their awards ceremony next month. More delays are inevitable, and the next few weeks will be crucial to determine the shape of how many events and/or movies will be delayed.

Source: Sundance Institute (press release)

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Written by Maxance Vincent

Maxance Vincent is a freelance film and TV critic, and a recent graduate of a BFA in Film Studies at the Université de Montréal. He is currently finishing a specialization in Video Game Studies, focusing on the psychological effects regarding the critical discourse on violent video games.

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