Sundance Ends Select Programs Amid COVID-Related Cuts

Sundance CEO Joana Vicente, who took over the festival last year, counts COVID-19 as the leading cause of the reshuffling to "cut costs."
FILE - The marquee of the Egyptian Theatre promotes the 2020 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah on Jan. 28, 2020. Organizers on Wednesday said that this year they will premiere over 70 films on a custom online platform during the seven day event. There will also be some socially distanced screening opportunities around the country. (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP, File)
The Egyptian Theatre at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah
Arthur Mola/Invision/AP

The Sundance Institute has officially folded select programs in an effort to cut costs and narrow its scope.

A staff memo penned by new Sundance CEO Joana Vicente announced that the Sundance Interdisciplinary Program and Film Music Program would be discontinued. Digital endeavor Sundance Collab will downsize to shift its focus to networking.

“There is no easy way to deliver this message,” Vicente opened the letter, citing COVID-19 pandemic-related cutbacks. “We now must take additional measures to cut costs and reduce the scope of our operations to ensure a strong foundation for our future work and to set ourselves up for continued success.”

The Sundance Interdisciplinary Program, which supported artists working across mediums with fellowships, residencies and labs, will fold after its inaugural year. The Film Music Program, which nurtured emerging composers and film fellows, has now ended. Per Variety, the non-profit will now “pivot its resources to fiction and nonfiction film and episodic storytellers, year-round.”

Sundance canceled its plans to host the 2022 festival in-person, opting instead for a fully digital experience, continuing its 2021 protocols with online programming and select screenings at arthouse theaters across the U.S. The 2020 festival drew some 117,000 people, including 44,000 from out-of-state locations like New York City and Los Angeles.

Read the full memo obtained by IndieWire from Vicente below:

Dear Colleagues,

There is no easy way to deliver this message. As you know from our ongoing conversations, while fiscal 2022 has been filled with many great achievements across the organization, it has been a challenging year financially, and we need to plan for an equally difficult fiscal year 2023. Throughout, our artist community has remained at the core of our mission.

While we, like so many others, responded to the pandemic quickly, COVID has continued to present challenges for us: from the move to a digital only Festival to its impact on funding that we rely on to support our artist and other programs. We now must take additional measures to cut costs and reduce the scope of our operations to ensure a strong foundation for our future work and to set ourselves up for continued success. We are prioritizing both the health and well-being of our staff, and the community of artists the Institute has served for four decades.

The Core Leadership Team has looked closely at how we operate and support artists and the resources needed for the future. The focus of our year-round artist support will be in the areas of fiction and nonfiction film and episodic storytelling where we will continue to meet the moment for these artists.

These difficult decisions will result in some jobs and departments being eliminated, six people in total will leave the organization, and other open positions will not be filled.

I do not underestimate how hard these changes will be on our culture, impacting colleagues and friends, some of whom have been with the Institute for a very long time. We are grateful for their contributions to both the Institute, and more broadly to the field of arts and culture, and we thank each and every one for all they have contributed.

I want to take a moment to share a few details on areas directly impacted:

When the pandemic hit, we needed to quickly change how the organization worked and served artists. We started the Interdisciplinary Program as a pilot program to provide creative support and community to artists working across disciplines. This pilot program, with its fellowships, residency, and labs, will conclude at the end of the fiscal year. We look forward to hosting those current fellows at this year’s labs and gatherings.

Additionally, we will also not be able to move forward with the Film Music Program which has been working with the Interdisciplinary Program as well as nurturing emerging composers and our selected Film Fellows on the art of storytelling and music.

We will continue supporting innovative work at the New Frontier space at the Sundance Festival, and will use the learnings from the pilot program in our future work to find new ways to advance storytellers across disciplines, including our valued community of theater artists and composers. Our work supporting these storytellers over the past decades has had a deep and meaningful impact, and those artists are a valued and vibrant part of our storytelling community. We hope to be able to find the additional resources to amplify those critical voices in the years ahead.

Sundance Collab is a transformative global digital destination for independent storytellers to learn craft and find ongoing community and support. We will be focusing on the areas of the platform that members have been most engaged with—our paid affordable learning opportunities—while reducing the other areas of programming. These changes will have us parting with several team members as we shape Collab for a sustainable future.

Moving forward, we will be sunsetting the Collective department and will fold our alumni relations into the existing work the Institute teams already do to support our alumni.

Affected colleagues have already been notified and they will conclude their duties on a variety of timelines based on program needs in the coming months. We are taking great care to help ensure a smooth transition for these employees. We will provide exit packages including severance, COBRA reimbursement, and job placement assistance, as well as other benefits for those who are leaving the organization.

These are painful decisions but we believe they are necessary to allow us to continue to serve our larger mission: to provide catalytic artist support and elevate independent voices that are desperately needed as we all face the headwinds of significant cultural challenges. Together, we will continue to lift up artists and champion bold storytellers as Sundance has done for four decades.

We will gather later today, to provide more insight and where I will do my best to answer your questions. A calendar invite is forthcoming. Thank you again for your support, hard work and dedication to Sundance. You are each incredibly valued and I look forward to seeing you today.

With deep appreciation and respect,

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