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How to Buy Tickets and Reserve Virtual Seats for the 2021 Sundance Film Festival

Sundance is weeks away, but many festival-goers should act now to ensure their virtual seats are reserved.

The marquee of The Egyptian Theatre on Main Street is seen during the 2018 Sundance Film Festival on Monday, Jan. 22, 2018, in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Danny Moloshok/Invision/AP)

The Sundance Film Festival

Danny Moloshok/Invision/AP

The Sundance Film Festival is still weeks away, but Thursday is a crucial day for both the general public and many industry passholders who want to guarantee their first-come, first-served virtual seats at one of the 70-plus online premieres.

Public tickets and passes go on sale Thursday at 11 a.m. PT/noon MT/1 p.m. CT/2 p.m. ET. Time zones are indeed important this year, because anyone with a computer and internet connection can access the festival’s virtual screenings anywhere in the US (the VR program is available internationally). Tickets start at $15.

At the same time Thursday, industry members with standard passes can begin making reservations for virtual premiere screenings. Capacity is limited and first come, first served, so it’s important to make a reservation sooner rather than later if there’s a specific film you want to see during its first screening. The reservation window closes on January 28 at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET.

Much of the action will take place online, but Sundance has also partnered with theaters and drive-ins around the country for satellite screenings. More on that here.

Navigating any virtual festival can be challenging, given the various rules, windows, and scheduling in play. Here’s everything you need to know to prepare for the festival, which runs January 28 to February 3. Looking for ideas of what to see? IndieWire’s Eric Kohn has a preview of some hidden gems, surprises, and other potential breakouts from this year’s lineup.

General Public

This year’s festival is more accessible than ever: You won’t need to head to Utah in order to be among the first to watch future indie hits and make exciting cinematic discoveries.

The festival has several options, from single-film tickets to passes that allow nearly all-you-can-eat access to the entire lineup. More on that below.

Sundance has built the virtual festival experience around the supremacy of a live, virtual premiere meant to mirror the community and buzz that’s a key part of any first brick-and-mortar festival screening. If you buy a single-film ticket or pass, you can reserve a “seat” that will allow you to participate in an interactive waiting room experience, start streaming a movie at a specific time, and then join in on a live Q&A following the screening.

However, you don’t need to start watching a film exactly at its premiere time — you have a three-hour window to begin watching a movie for which you have a seat. You can take as many breaks as you want, as long as you finish the movie within four hours. Alternatively, your ticket or pass will allow you to watch a given movie any time during a 24-hour on-demand window, which opens two days following the premiere.

Premiere screenings are organized in blocks. Generally there will be two to five movies to choose from per block, with five blocks per day from noon to midnight ET (9 a.m. to 9 p.m. PT). The last day to reserve a seat for a premiere is January 28, but passholders will be able to watch any film during its premiere window that has not reached capacity. Additionally, passholders may watch a second movie in any given premiere block if the three-hour window has not run out and there is capacity in the second film of their choice.

All talks and events are available worldwide for free. The lineup will be announced next week.

With varying windows and ways to watch, planning is key for any successful Sundance experience. The best way to prepare is to make an account on the online platform and explore the lineup using Sundance’s helpful scheduling tools.

Here’s a summary of ticket options.

Single-film ticket: $15 for either a premiere or on-demand screening on any day of the festival except Awards Day (Wednesday). Tickets are limited. US audiences only.

You should buy if: There are one or two movies you know you want to see.

Festival pass: $350 for unlimited access to premiere and on-demand screenings (which have limited capacity), on-demand screenings of award-winning films on February 3, plus on-demand access to the Indie Series, shorts, and New Frontier programs. On sale until January 22. US audiences only.

You should buy if: You want maximum flexibility to explore the lineup and make discoveries by attending several premieres over several days. This also gives you maximum flexibility to watch titles in response to word-of-mouth buzz.

Day pass: $75 to access a full day’s worth of premieres and on-demand screenings plus on-demand access to the Indie Series, shorts, and New Frontier programs. Unavailable for opening night, January 28, or Awards Day on February 3. On sale until January 22. US audiences only.

You should buy if: You can devote a single day to making the most of your at-home festival experience. Whether you choose a nonstop marathon or just a few premieres paired with some on-demand selections, it’s easy to get your money’s worth.

Award winners pass: $100 to access all 32 audience- and jury-award winning films after they’re announced. However, they’ll only be available on demand for one day, February 3. Also included is on-demand access to the Indie Series, shorts, and New Frontier programs. US audiences only.

You should buy if: You’re less interested in discovery and more interested in being among the first to watch some of the movies that will dominate conversation and win major awards over the next year. But don’t expect to be able to watch everything you’ve paid for, though.

Explorer pass: $25 to access the Indie Series, shorts, and New Frontier programs on demand for the duration of the festival. This is the only general public pass available for international audiences, though those abroad will only be able to access the New Frontier program.

You should buy if: You live outside the US or are on a tight budget, but still want to have your own Sundance experience at home. Or, if you have an interest in Sundance’s non-feature offerings; this is a particularly good option for those interested in VR.

Note that most of the New Frontier selections are available on demand, some include live performances. Those are included included in all passes.

To learn more about or to purchase tickets and passes, head to the Sundance website.

Industry

Those with all-access passes are guaranteed premiere seats. But general passholders will need to choose which movies they want to see ahead of time for a guarantee they’ll get a seat.

Sundance has built the virtual festival experience around the supremacy of a live, virtual premiere meant to mirror the community and buzz that’s so ingrained in the Sundance experience. Having a seat at a premiere means you’ll be able to participate in an interactive waiting room experience, start streaming a movie at a specific time, and then join in on a live Q&A following the screening.

However, you don’t need to start watching a film exactly at its premiere time — you have a three-hour window to begin watching a movie for which you have a seat. You can take as many breaks as you want as long as you finish the movie within four hours.

Premiere screenings are organized in blocks. Generally there will be two to five movies to choose from per block, with five blocks per day from noon to midnight ET (9 a.m. to 9 p.m. PT). The last day to reserve a seat for a premiere is January 28, but passholders will be able to watch any film during its premiere window that has not reached capacity. Additionally, passholders may watch a second movie in any given premiere block if the three-hour window has not run out and there is capacity in the second film of their choice.

The premiere reservation window opens Thursday and ends January 28.

Alternatively, you can watch a movie on-demand during two windows following the premiere. The first window begins the morning after the premiere, lasts for 24 hours, and is restricted to press and industry. Each standard pass allows the viewing of 10 films in this window; a view is counted 20 minutes into the movie. Capacity is limited.

The next window begins two days after a premiere and lasts for 24 hours. It is open to the general public and doesn’t count toward your 10 views, though capacity may be limited.

All industry passes allow for on-demand access to the New Frontier, Indie Series, and shorts programs; talks and events; interactive film parties; and the Festival Village, a virtual analogue to Park City’s Main Street.

Industry passes are still available and will be on sale until January 14.

How to Watch

First off, you’ll have to set up your schedule on a computer, where you’ll have full access to the Sundance web interface. To watch films, your best bet is either to connect your computer to a TV, or access your selections through the app.

Sundance apps are available for Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, iOS, and Android. Again, you’ll have to set your schedule of films on the computer ahead of time. You can watch live Q&As, but you won’t be able to participate in them or access the waiting room through the apps.

More information about how to watch is available here.

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