The Sundance Film Festival is going to look a little different in 2021. The news doesn’t come as a major surprise, what with the world embroiled in the chaos of a marginally-controlled pandemic, but the plans outlined in a letter from new festival director Tabitha Jackson paint an unfamiliar picture of Park City’s defining winter event. Projecting what the world will look like seven months from now is a fool’s errand, so the festival structure will surely evolve. As of now, organizers are planning for a hybrid event with in-person events in Park City and 20 other communities in addition to virtual screenings.

Taking over as director of the preeminent celebration of independent film is no easy task in the best of times, and the circumstances Jackson inherits are—to put it mildly—daunting. The festival is defined by the boisterous energy in engenders in Old Town. Absent that trademark characteristic, Sundance is susceptible to being drowned out by the cacophony of an ongoing pandemic, a nation’s reckoning with systemic inequity and a presidential inauguration. Still, Jackson is seizing on the opportunity to rethink how Sundance is presented to audiences and how it impacts communities.

“The 2021 Sundance Film Festival will be a grand partnership of communities. It will take place live in Utah and in at least 20 independent and community cinemas across the U.S. and beyond,” says Jackson in the letter posted on the Sundance website. Utah has been the home of the Festival for close to 40 years and always will be, but the 2021 Festival will extend beyond Utah and will be co-created by and for different communities in different locations, preserving what is magical about experiencing films on the big screen with others — even if at a smaller and socially distanced scale.”

One silver lining of the a new-look Sundance is it will likely be more accessible in 2021. The festival becomes increasingly exclusive each year as its stature grows, impacting both the kinds of filmmakers whose work is showcased and the audiences who get to experience the films. At least for the 2021 edition, virtual and remote events and screenings mean a greater swath of people will be able to engage with the voices and perspectives of independent artists. “At the center of all our planning, the 2021 Sundance Film Festival will have an online home, making the festival accessible in a way it never has been before,” says Jackson.

Though the community had to know changes were in store for Sundance 2021, it’s still a blow to Main Street where businesses are struggling to survive the downturn wrought by coronavirus. Sundance has historically been an economic boon to Park City, and it’s yet another popular event upended during the pandemic. We’ll update this story as more information about the 2021 Sundance Film Festival is announced.

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