The Slamdance Film Festival will not be staged in Park City in 2021, but will instead take place in Joshua Tree, California and online from January 22-28, 2021. For more than two decades Slamdance has screened films concurrently with the higher profile Sundance Film Festival in relatively small the mountain town, but current circumstances with the continued spread of COVID-19 has made doing so this upcoming winter impractical.

Slamdance organizers are viewing the change as an opportunity for evolution rather than as capitulation. “Slamdance ‘21 isn’t about compromise because of the pandemic. It’s about community, accessibility and growth. It’s about Slamdance’s future and the love of independent film,” Slamdance President and Co-founder Peter Baxter said a prepared statement on the organization’s website. For 2021, Slamdance’s in-person experience will be an invite-only, socially-distanced retreat for the filmmakers and industry guests. The public will be rendered virtual attendees, able to watch films and view festival events on slamdance.com and on the Slamdance’s YouTube channel.

While Slamdance appears poised to carry on without slowing down, the departure leaves a significant hole in the cultural fabric of Utah and Park City. The insurgent festival has long served as an important authenticity check on the Sundance Film Festival, which has at times outgrown its “independent” label by becoming increasingly exclusive, inaccessible and mainstream, both for audiences and filmmakers. Slamdance has carried the torch for the rebellious and alternative viewpoints some see missing in Sundance’s modern incarnation. It will be sorely missed, especially during a year in which Sundance has outlined altered plans of their own that will make it difficult for audiences to connect with independent film as they typically do.

The first film I covered from Slamdance was a documentary called The Resurrection of Jake the Snake, which premiered during the 2015 festival and detailed the struggles of iconic professional wrestler Jake “The Snake” Roberts as he tried to reclaim his life after battling personal demons. It will always stick with me— partly because I got to attend a Royal Rumble watch party with childhood idols including Jake himself and “Razor Ramon” Scott Hall—because the film is a haunting depiction of addiction and the difficult fight towards recovery, and is a wonderful encapsulation of the courageous, niche filmmaking that occurs at Slamdance.

As of publication time, Slamdance organizers have not responded to questions about whether the festival plans to return to Park City in the future. Here’s hoping it’s a temporary departure and we don’t lose a beloved celebration of the daring, the different, the weird and the fun for good. Visit Slamdance’s website to stay up to date with the 2021 festival, and check out some of the festival’s previous films here.

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