Sundance 2022 Needs To Pivot To A Virtual Film Fest

Egyptian Marquee, 2015. © 2015 Sundance Institute | Photo by Jemal Countess.

As the Omicron variant disrupts awards season and closes Broadway, the 2022 Sundance Film Festival is lowering capacity and requiring boosters.

(Edit on January 5: The Sundance Institute announced that in-person portion of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival is now cancelled.)

But should they? I get lowering theatrical capacity out of an abundance of caution but with all the disruptions, is it even a good idea to hold a physical film festival? Look at the studio presence that was going to be held at all of the awards galas getting cancelled. the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences postponed their Governors Awards ceremony set for January 15. If the studios aren’t comfortable sending talent to these galas, are they going to be comfortable sending talent and whatnot to a film festival? This is something I keep going over and over in my head during the past few days. If numbers continue getting worse, it will be in the best interest of the festival to pivot entirely to virtual.

You don’t want to be the festival that took place amid a Covid-19 surge and became a hotspot. What happens if there’s an outbreak? Where are people going to end up staying so that housemates and roommates don’t get sick? You certainly don’t want anyone getting on a plane after testing positive! This is food for thought and while I currently plan to attend in person, I do have my own doubts with the numbers rising, awards season being disrupted, Broadway closing, and professional sports games being postponed or outright cancelled. If Sundance goes on and becomes a hotspot, the festival will never hear the end of it.

I was all set to attend the 27th Annual Critics Choice Awards in Los Angeles on January 9. After initially saying that the show would go on, CCA leadership did the right thing and postponed the show until a later date. While the Omicron case numbers are dropping in South Africa, the American surge is only beginning. Throw in the anti-vaxxers and we’re going to be in this mess for quite some time.

Listen, we all want the movie industry to make a comeback and save theaters. But we’re living in a pandemic and we have to think about health safety in doing so. Right now, I’m fully intending to attend the 2022 Sundance Film Festival in person. For the sake of my mental health, I need to be sitting in a dark movie theater and roaming the sidewalks of Park City. But at the same time, the new variant numbers have me wondering if this is a good idea. It’s probably not given the risks involved. Should I bring my Apple TV so that I can watch movies at the Airbnb? Maybe. It would give me a necessary back-up plan should I feel that I’m not staying hydrated enough. I’ll have more on the water situation shortly.

We’ll know this weekend’s actual box office numbers in a few days. Mind you, box office numbers are never great when December 24-25 fall on a Friday and Saturday. Growing up, the movie theaters would always close early on December 24 and open later on December 25. During the pandemic, a number of theaters are still opening later and have yet to return to their early matinee opening. Because of this, it is unfair to compare this weekend to the previous weekend. But in any event, I want to see how Omicron impacts the box office numbers. We know it’s having a devastating effect on Broadway a few months after theaters started reopening. I feel for everyone who is hurting right now. I know how much love there is for the industry, too.

If I’m Sundance, I would be paying extremely close attention to the numbers. I’m glad that food will not be allowed in theaters. Unfortunately, this will likely lead to a lot of dehydrated people in the audience. I drink a lot of water during Sundance more so than caffeine for a reason. High altitudes do a number to the system and there’s a reason why water bottles and stations are always on hand. And again, I plan to go in person to the film festival. Should I say home? Probably but I’m going to let Sundance be the one to make this decision. There’s a lot of money at stake and nobody wants to see the in-person portion cancelled. But when you look at the current numbers, you have to start thinking about Plan B.

Should Sundance decide to pivot to a 100% virtual film festival, a decision needs to be made sooner than later. I can’t stress it enough but the last thing the festival needs is to become a hot spot. Is there any reason to think that numbers in late December will be any better in late January? It doesn’t help that new data is showing that boosters no longer provide symptomatic protection after 10 weeks. When Israel requires a fourth vaccine shot, I trust that there’s a reason. But if the festival is going to go forward, they better require N95 or KN95 masks and nothing less

The 2022 Sundance Film Festival will take place January 20–30, 2022.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.