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With more streaming than screening, the Sundance Film Festival is looking to virtual panels and forums to generate audience moments and momentum for its upcoming pandemic-era 2021 edition.
In place of red carpets and screaming paparazzi, Sundance festival director Tabitha Jackson will host a half-hour “Opening Night Welcome” on Jan. 28 via her event’s bespoke digital platform. And as it looks to generate buzz for film premieres, Sundance is planning star-driven Cinema Cafe’ programming to feature appearances by first-time directors Rebecca Hall, Robin Wright and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson; Shaka King, who is bringing Judas and the Black Messiah to the festival; and actors Sonia Manzano and Rita Moreno, among others.
The latest online innovations follow Sundance unveiling plans for an online hub and U.S. industry theater partnerships to carry off a novel coronavirus-era indie film showcase to run from Jan. 28 to Feb. 3. All Sundance talks and events will be free to view globally, with viewers signing up for an account at Festival.Sundance.org for access.
Also this year, the “Sundance Dailies” segments will stream at 9 a.m. each morning from Jan. 29 to Feb. 2, with festival director Jackson and guests like Mexican actor Eugenio Derbez, Ed Helms, Rebecca Hall, Zoe Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein helping to bring Sundance’s shortened seven-day run and largely online festival experience to a global audience.
Sundance will also go beyond film to “The Big Conversation,” where artists will discuss topical issues around art and culture, including B. Ruby Rich hosting a panel on Queer cinema that includes Gregg Araki, Lisa Cholodenko and Silas Howard.
Contagion writer Scott Z. Burns and retired NASA astronaut Leland Melvin will discuss the importance of scientific collaboration via film and TV. I Am Not Your Negro director Raoul Peck will join Sundance topper Jackson in a conversation about white supremacy, history, creative expression and his upcoming work Exterminate All the Brutes, which probes 600 years of historical genocides.
Sundance’s dependence on virtual worlds comes as it gets set to mostly stream 73 feature-length movies and additional short films on a festival-built digital platform, a departure from past years when Sundance attendees moved on the ground among theaters in Park City to take in premieres, events and talks.
This year, Sundance will host a virtual panel on storytelling by Black filmmakers, and an evening of performance and conversation that celebrates women and includes appearances by singer-songwriter Soko, actors Marlee Matlin and Rita Moreno, director Siân Heder, poet Apiorkor and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater artistic director emerita Judith Jamison.
The festival has also reimagined its Park City setting with virtual Main Street venues for its online audience, and the Artist Lounge will offer online special events for filmmakers and independent storytellers, again with free access for viewers.
Sundance will close with a live-streamed awards night on Feb. 2, and a concluding “It’s A Wrap” session on the following morning.
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