The Sundance Film Festival returns to Park City with a newly announced lineup that includes the latest feature from directors Nicole Holofcener and Ira Sachs, biodocs on Brooke Shields and Little Ricahrd, and title adaptations. cat person Y eileen.
Sundance Institute CEO Joana Vicente, Director of Programming Kim Yutani and Senior Programmer John Nein spoke with the hollywood reporter about this year’s festival, from COVID contingencies to lessons learned from jihad rehabilitation.
Facing this year’s festival, how did you come to the decision of a hybrid model?
VINCENT This seems to be the common question. We have two years of digital festival. Last year we had designed a hybrid festival, but we ended up having to go online due to the rise of Omicron. We felt that while we’re going to prioritize in-person, we also felt that we couldn’t turn our backs on what turned out to be a very successful platform for Sundance. We were able to release amazing movies, some of which won Oscars. The digital platform allowed us to reach more and provide more access to audiences who may not have thought Sundance was for them. It’s going to be a very robust offer. I think we have close to 80 movies on the schedule that will be available to digital audiences.
Did you get any pushback from filmmakers or distributors about digital offerings?
VINCENT That’s why we built in flexibility. We don’t require digital showings for the films at Premieres or Spotlight, so we had a chance to discuss which section was right for the film. Also, what was the correct way that distributors wanted to present the films.
Compared to where we were at this time last year, COVID is in a different place. But is there a world where the festival doesn’t take place in person?
VINCENT We definitely feel like we’re going to be in person. It’s very different; everyone has learned to live with COVID and take the precautions that everyone should take. It’s going to be a personal choice to be there or not. We are also putting, if necessary, some measures in terms of capacity or masking. We believe that we are going to provide a very safe experience.
What were some of the thematic or narrative trends you noticed in this year’s presentations?
VINCENT The work always reflects the world we live in and the issues we face, from the war in Ukraine to protests in Iran, reproductive rights and other women’s issues.
YUTANI Something really significant this year was seeing three films made by Iranian women: the persian version, joonamY The thing. These are three incredibly personal stories from the filmmakers and they really speak to the urgency of the moment. Individually, they are amazing movies. Together, they create a larger conversation about what is happening to women globally and especially in Iran.
NO [The films] they also reflect a large number of diasporic narratives.
Most of the films in the dramatic competition heading to the festival this year have no distribution. Was that intentional?
YUTANI It’s something we talk about all the time as we go through the movies. But it’s always about the balance of what goes into the show. There are movies with distribution and then there are movies that are looking for sales. Our role at Sundance is to see where we are at any given moment and be able to adapt; to be the festival that reflects the work we are seeing. but also with luck [we can] use our platform to influence the direction of the industry.
NO Some of those exciting discovery filmmakers are films that do get distribution. In some cases, distributors are the ones developing audiences for fresh, independent, author-driven voices. I’m watching a movie like All dirt roads taste of salt in the American competition, which is an extraordinary and committed poetic vision for a film. [A24 is distributing the film.] In some cases, there is work that has no distribution. But in other cases, you see those same distributors are taking risks with some of the work that they’re putting on the market. And the festival offers an opportunity for the release of those films.
VINCENT It’s also a great opportunity for people to come together to reflect on the state of the industry. There’s so much consolidation, it’s very important for us to contribute and provide a diverse ecosystem to bring new voices into the fold.
Sundance has long been a launching pad for docs, but nonfiction’s dominance in Hollywood has increased tenfold in recent years. Has there also been a correlated increase in documents being sent?
YUTANI Every year we have the same problem where we are faced with an embarrassment of riches with documentaries being presented to us from the American perspective, but also from the international one. Especially on the international side, these numbers have been increasing over the years. I think a lot of that has to do with how successful it’s been after the exposure of these movies in the US market to the awards that the movies we’ve shown have been getting.
After it was screened at the festival last year, the doc jihad rehabilitation it sparked much conversation and criticism, from representation to ethical concerns. What is your process for investigating sensitive documentary films and have you implemented any changes since your response to jihad rehabilitation?
VINCENT We always learn, and we have learned a lot from the conversation that took place after the movie was shown and the many perspectives on that movie. There are things that have been in the conversation for a while around subject safety and duty care, so we changed something in the way we asked those questions on the submission form. But then again, this had actually been up for discussion before. [Jihad Rehab], but this was the year we implemented it. The festival is the perfect place to showcase films that can be risky and thought-provoking. That’s part of what we do to start the dialogue around important issues for the field and for our time.
What changed in the submission process?
YUTANI We added a question to our submission form that asked film crews to explain their relationship to their subjects and their duty of care and subject safety plan. Those responses were really something that we incorporated into our programming process and talked about in depth.
Joanna, you mentioned consolidation and the state of the industry. What is Sundance’s place within the entertainment industry as it continues to navigate the turmoil in the wake of COVID?
VINCENT We are a very important part of the ecosystem. Not just the work that we do throughout the year in terms of supporting artists, but also having this amazing platform for movies. At the center of everything we do is the work of artists.
The Sundance Film Festival will take place in Park City from January 19-29, with additional virtual offerings.
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