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Sundance And Slamdance Film Festivals Go Virtual This Year, But Utahns Will Have Some Unique Opportunities

Sundance And Slamdance normally bring thousands of festival goers to Park City each year. This year, both festivals are almost entirely online.
Jon Reed
Sundance And Slamdance normally bring thousands of festival goers to Park City each year. This year, both festivals are almost entirely online.

Rather than slogging through the snow this year, attendees of the Sundance and Slamdance Film Festivals are going to be able participate from the comfort of their homes.

Both festivals were some of Utah’s last big, in-person events of 2020. This year, each will take place almost entirely online, with viewers able to stream films over their computers or directly to their TVs.

Sundance organizers created a custom-platform to screen films, which also allows attendees to join an interactive waiting room to chat with other fans and participate in Q&A’s with filmmakers.

There will be a limited number of tickets for films due to rights agreements, and also fewer films this year — 72 feature films compared to 118 last year. But managing director Betsy Wallace said digital screenings will allow more people to attend. And private watch parties are encouraged.

“The [screening] caps only limit the amount of screens that can be seen,” she said. “But there might be three or four people watching that film. So it does give a broader ability for people to see the film throughout the US and globally.”

Over 30 theaters, drive-ins and pop-up venues across the country will also have in-person screenings, as local health conditions permit. Organizers were planning to use the Ray Theater in Park City as one in-person location, but in a statement last week they announced its events would be moved online due to “the overall public health situation in Utah.”

Still, Utahns will have some unique opportunities to experience the festival. High school teachers across the state will be able to screen a film for their students, in the classroom or remotely. The festival is offering free and discounted tickets for 18 to 25-year-olds, distributed through Utah colleges and community organizations.

Utah residents will also have access to a free, residents-only screening of LIfe in a Day 2020, a documentary assembled from thousands of videos created in a single day and uploaded to YouTube.

As for Slamdance, organizers say the festival this year will be its largest and most accessible in its 27-year history. A virtual pass gives attendees access to every film in the festival, at any time during the festival’s run, which has been extended this year from one week to two. There are also more films this year— over 100 —along with filmmaker Q&As and other presentations.

“In the independent world, since I've been involved in it, I found it to be in some ways quite exclusive,” said Slamdance Co-founder and President Peter Baxter. “And here I think we have an opportunity of helping to support independent film be more inclusive. And I think that can only be a good thing for filmmakers, to open up the world to others who oftentimes haven't got the resources or the time to go to attend a film festival.”

The festival will also have a few drive-in screening events, though only in California.

While each festival has had to adapt, Wallace said the mission of championing independent artists is still alive and well.

“Whatever you can take out of a film, from an artist, is still available,” she said. “It is still saying that this world is connected somehow and we're all playing a part of it.”

The Sundance Film Festival will run from Jan. 28 through Feb. 3, with tickets on sale starting Jan. 7.

Slamdance runs from Feb. 12 through the 25th. Passes are available now.

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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