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Sundance Prepares a Shortened, Seven-Day Festival, and Pushes Back Dates a Week

Sundance is also dramatically shrinking its footprint in Park City for the 2021 edition.

FILE - In this Jan. 28, 2020 file photo, the marquee of the Egyptian Theatre promotes the 2020 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Festival organizers said selections from next year’s edition will also play in at least 20 other cities, radically enlarging Sundance’s scope and potentially connecting it more deeply with local communities. (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP, File)

The Egyptian Theatre during the Sundance Film Festival in 2020.

Arthur Mola/Invision/AP

Though its specific plans remain in flux, the Sundance Film Festival is going to be smaller for its 2021 edition. Organizers this week moved to shrink the typically 10-day festival to seven days; it will now take place from January 28 to February 3. Additionally, they’re planning for a much smaller footprint in Park City.

Betsy Wallace, the Sundance Institute’s managing director and CFO, appeared before the Park City city council Tuesday to get the modified plans signed off, which include a drastically reduced amount of space for parking, ticketing, and office space Sundance is planning on leasing from the city.

The festival has yet to finalize any plans, but Wallace said during the meeting that the festival will be a much smaller affair than in years past. She’s expecting that theaters will, at best, be reduced to 25 percent capacity, the same restriction that’s been put on businesses in the city.

“This is a very, very difficult decision for Sundance to reduce its footprint,” she said. “It’s going to be a tough year.”

City officials also OK’d Sundance’s request to nix the typical requirement that 70 percent of the festival be held in or around Park City. That opens the door for Sundance to host out-of-state events and screenings as part of its offerings, which the fest expressed interest in earlier this summer.

The festival was originally set for January 21 to 31, though its been hinted at for weeks that it might shift its dates slightly; it will now roll out a week after its originally planned dates. It typically hosts over 120,000 people over ten days, primarily in Park City. But organizers have long expected that the festival’s next edition will be a truncated one.

Newly installed festival director Tabitha Jackson in June revealed that the festival is planning for a range of scenarios when it comes to imagining what the event will look like during the global health crisis. That could include an online component, something that is looking increasingly likely for festivals that wait to remain relevant during the pandemic but are unable to host a normal level of on-the-ground activity.

September’s Toronto International Film festival, for example, is planning a dramatically pared-down festival that could offer a blueprint for how to successfully organize important festivals during the pandemic. It will exist as both a limited physical festival and online experience, through a combination of physical screenings, drive-ins, digital screenings, virtual red carpets, press conferences, and industry talks. Out-of-town press, typically a large contingent of TIFF attendees, are being asked to stay home. It typically screens over 300 films; this year it’s showing only 50.

The truncated Sundance plans comes after institute consolidated several of its labs and laid off 13 percent of its staff in early July. At the same time, it has been allocating resources to support filmmakers impacted by the pandemic, including a $1 million grant fund announced in April.

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