Sundance Festival Cancels Los Angeles Drive-In Screenings

2019 Sundance Film Festival - A view of official signage around town as Park City - Getty-H 2019
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The festival cites the COVID-19 virus spread in Los Angeles County and southern California for moving planned outdoor film screenings online.

The 2021 Sundance Film Festival has canceled its planned Los Angeles-area drive-in screenings due to surging COVID-19 infection rates in southern California.

"The safety and well-being of our audiences, community and staff is the most important thing to Sundance Institute and Sundance Film Festival. In consideration of the overall public health situation in the Los Angeles area and the trajectory of the spread of the virus there, the health guidelines, and crisis the hospital systems are facing we will be pivoting our planned drive-in screenings to our online platform," Sundance said in a statement.

Sundance earlier planned an online hub and U.S. industry partnerships to carry off a novel coronavirus-era indie film showcase for its 2021 edition to run from Jan. 28 to Feb. 3. That included drive-in movie theater screenings, including in California at Mission Tiki Drive-In in Montclair, the Rose Bowl Drive-In in Pasadena and the Fort Mason Drive-In in San Francisco.

But the festival now sees the southern California outdoor screenings as "inadvisable" and will be pulled after consultations with local public health officials. That move comes as the COVID-19 crisis again pauses film production in Hollywood and continues to upend planning for Sundance's upcoming 2021 edition.

In a separate letter to filmmakers obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, festival programmers point to a "significant spike in COVID-19 cases," the appearance of a new virus strain and pressures on local hospitals in California, as grounds for its decision to cancel drive-in screenings.

"It is deeply unfortunate that southern California, and Los Angeles County in particular, is now one of the worst hit parts of the country," the letter to filmmakers adds.

Sundance will still go ahead elsewhere in the U.S. with countrywide screening partnerships with indie cinemas and cultural organizations well beyond Utah to ensure, where allowed by local public health officials, a traditional Sundance premiere for film titles.

Shortened to seven days, compared to the usual 10 days, the Sundance Institute's upcoming event will feature 72 feature-length movies and additional short films on a bespoke digital platform, rather than see industry players move among theaters in Park City to take in premieres, events and talks, as in the past.