Sundance 2023 Q&A: Legacy, New Venues, Themes & Locally Made Films

After going online for two years in a row, Sundance Film Festival is returning to in-person screenings in Park City, Salt Lake and Sundance Mountain Resort from Jan. 24–29. In anticipation of wearing pants again to see a film (just us?), we asked Kim Yutani, director of programming for the festival, a few burning questions about this year’s fest.

First, a little about Yutani: She started programming for Sundance in 2006. Her past work at the fest includes programming for short films and features, leading short film programming and working on panels and conversations. She helped create Sundance Film Festival Hong Kong, and has cultivated relationships for Sundance and filmmakers internationally. Her industry experience goes back further, including work at other festivals, as a film critic, and as director Gregg Araki’s assistant. (She was also nice enough to provide links when answering our questions.)

Kim Yutani, director of programming for Sundance Film Festival, photo courtesy of Sundance Institute
Kim Yutani, director of programming for Sundance Film Festival, photo by Agnieszka Wojtun.

Sundance does a great job of serving Utahns. What is there for locals this year?

“We missed being in Utah the past two years and are delighted to be returning in person, where the heart of the festival exists. While Sundance is a place for the industry and artistic community to convene, it is also a place for the public to be introduced to new and exciting films before their wide release. In Park City, audiences can enjoy conversations on Main Street at the Filmmaker Lodge through our Beyond Film programming, most of which are accessible for free when audiences sign up for a festival online account to receive a QR code.

The Salt Lake City Opening Night Gala Film is Blueback, premiering at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center on Jan. 20

For the in-person screenings, we had a locals ticket package on sale, until Dec. 31, that could be purchased by Utahns anywhere in the state. We still have, until Jan. 16, a Salt Lake City pass that is sold at a discounted price to thank local audiences for their support. Anyone interested in learning more about those can visit this page. There’s also still an SLC Youth Pass available to attendees ages 18–25, until Jan. 16. After Jan. 12, audiences — Utahns and otherwise — can also purchase individual tickets in advance through our festival website.

Another new element this year is that the institute will host the inaugural Opening Night: A Taste of Sundance celebration on Jan. 19. The evening will kick off the festival by honoring inspiring and breakout storytellers whose journeys have been connected to Sundance throughout the years while raising funds and awareness for the institute.”

Tell us a little about the new venues.

“The Utah audiences have always been a priority for us. Utah is our home and we love the opportunity for them to share in the discovery. In support of this, we have expanded our presence in Salt Lake City at The Megaplex at The Gateway, bringing Sundance directly to the place where local audiences are enjoying all types of films year-round. Our filmmakers cherish the audiences in SLC and the excitement it provides for the films. In addition to the films, locals can experience the energy and community of the festival outside the screen by visiting our SLC lounge spaces thanks to Visit Salt Lake: The Copper Common Music Cafe and the Festival Lounge @ HallPass. You can read about those here.”

What are some other additions to the festival?

“This year, we’ll have great From the Collection screenings of restored films. We especially think locals will enjoy the 25th anniversary screening of SLAM, which was first introduced to audiences at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, where it premiered in the U.S. Dramatic Competition section and won the Grand Jury Prize. In addition to that, we’ll offer Encore Special Screenings of Sundance favorite films that played in our program last year or the year before online. We want attendees to get a chance to experience some of these titles theatrically in Park City now that we’re able to gather on the mountain.”

Among the films, what themes have you seen emerge?

“This slate is a curation of works that spotlight the importance of independent storytelling. We are thrilled to be back in person to be stimulated by the art, collective conversation and perspectives that truly reflect the world today, and the program reflects this excitement. Though the festival is based in the United States, international storytelling and global perspectives have always been preeminent elements of the makeup of the program. We are noticing that many U.S. productions are also reflecting global stories and audiences are looking to embrace a multiplicity of perspectives, both to see themselves in the work and be inspired by the lived experiences of others.

We have a handful of fascinating docs about major figures this year as well. From authors Judy Blume and Shere Hite, actors Brooke Shields and Michael J. Fox, musicians Little Richard and The Indigo Girls, and the artist Nam June Paik, there are examinations of all kinds of legacies and where they intersect with pop culture that we expect will be very compelling for audiences.

Beyond themes, viewers can expect what we always deliver on: The festival program includes everything from comedies to heartfelt intergenerational stories to creepy horror films to timely social justice docs. There is something for everyone.”

What international features are you especially excited for?

“We have three features from or about Iran in the lineup this year — The Persian Version, Joonam, Shayda — and all three are very different but powerful. There is an urgency to this storytelling, and we see it as an essential part of this year’s festival that we’re looking forward to hearing audience reactions to. The same is true of our two films from Ukraine, 20 Days in Mariupol and Iron Butterflies. They tell different but essential stories about another country that has loomed large in the news, and we’re pleased to be bringing those stateside.”

Which of this year’s Midnight films will give us nightmares?

“Most of our programmers would say the three scariest ones are birth/rebirth, Infinity Pool and My Animal. These are more in the straight-up horror vein, but, as you know, the Midnight section aims to showcase a broad variety of genre fare — we have some films in there that you’d likely describe as fun before calling them scary, for example, Polite Society.”

The festival has three promising features for families with kids to enjoy. Have you seen any of these yourself?

“I have! The first one, Aliens Abducted My Parents and Now I Feel Kinda Left Out, in our Kids section, is directed by Jake Van Wagoner, a BYU alum and local Utah filmmaker. The family-friendly comedy was filmed in Utah, and Jake is a veteran of BYUtv’s sketch comedy series Studio C. We’re excited to see Jake have a hometown welcome with that premiere. The other two family-friendly films are our Opening Night film, Blueback, from Australia, and The Amazing Maurice, based on a novel by Sir Terry Pratchett, with an amazing voice cast including Hugh Laurie and Emilia Clarke.”

What is it like to return to in-person screenings?

“We’ve missed being together and the undeniable camaraderie of a collective experience. We have an overwhelming sense of gratitude to be returning in person to Park City, Salt Lake City and Sundance Resort, truly the heart of the festival. We are delighted to be bringing people together to enthusiastically share in the energy and compelling dialogue in real-time, invigorated by the work on screen, our talks and overall programming.

We’ve designed the in-person and online program for this festival with the intention of offering an accessible and inclusive experience. It enables audiences who typically may not have the ability or resources to experience the festival to enjoy the entertaining works and participate in the discovery. Over 80 films will be available online to audiences across the country.”

Any final words before we finish?

“I speak for everyone at Sundance when I say that we’re thrilled to be back in Utah. We have a longstanding presence in Salt Lake and Park City, and the community’s support means the world to us. It’s going to be great having our festival regulars and new audiences alike back in person this January. Our festival is about discovery, and we put a lot of care into making it easy to discover diverse films that audiences wouldn’t otherwise see, and there’s no better way to make those discoveries than in person and in community.”

Utahns can also register for the Local Lens free screenings at this year’s festival. Sign up for the Local Lens newsletter for updates for updates.

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Jaime Winston
Jaime Winston
Jaime is a contributing writer for Salt Lake magazine. Formerly, he served as our editorial intern, then as our assistant web editor, and, finally, as our web editor. While he covers many different topics, he is especially interested in nerdy entertainment, from FanX's artist alley to Sundance's Midnight screenings.

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