2021 Sundance Film Festival

Illustration by Riley Andersen

Fur coats, the Egyptian Theatre, Kevin Smith and celebrity sightings. All traditions of years gone by of the Sundance Film Festival–until now. The festival took a new approach this year to debut the films to a mass audience through on-demand streaming. This was due to the ongoing restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Esteemed as one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world, the Sundance Film Festival typically brings thousands of filmmakers, producers, reporters and cinephiles alike to brave the January cold in Park City, Utah every year. 

The festival features a wide variety of films, most of which are considered “art house” or “indie” films. It has also jumpstarted the careers of many A-list actors and directors. The festival is famous for featuring directorial debuts of Quentin Tarantino , Jordan Peele and Damien Chazelle. 

Typically, the festival debuts about 120 films with a schedule running 11 days. This year there were only 70 with a schedule of seven  days, from Jan. 28 to Feb. 3. Despite fewer films debuting, festival goers have the opportunity to attend more screenings compared to past years. Here’s how:

There are several proven methods to take on the festival. Festival goers can either purchase a pass, which will allow them to schedule a certain amount of films depending on the tier of their pass, or individual tickets for select screenings. 

There is a certain distinguishable and  almost indefinable magic of the Sundance Film Festival. Having gone for the last four years, it’s become a tradition to experience it. You get to be in a place where people literally travel from all over the world. You get to see a film that only a room full of people have seen. You get to experience the arts and gain a new appreciation for film. And sometimes, the film itself is actually pretty good. 

So what about the magic with this year’s festival?  

Part of the magic of the Sundance Film Festival is waking up at 6 a.m., putting on your most fashionable winter coat and waiting in line in below freezing temperatures for a film you’ve never even heard of. Although the films themselves are what the festival is all about, it’s really more than that. The festival is about experiencing culture, communing with other film lovers and networking with those working in the industry. Unfortunately, most festival goers this year, including myself, were deprived of these experiences. 

However, the on-demand format of the festival did prove to have its advantages: Some of the films I saw were “Second Screenings.” Which meant I was given a 24 hour window to watch the film. I wasn’t restricted to the screening time set by the festival schedule. This flexibility made for a much less stressful festival experience.

Another obvious appeal to the on-demand format was the cost. Each film cost $15 to stream. Split that between you and your family, that’s a bargain. In past years, if you were to pay for an individual screening it would cost you $20 a person. 

By moving to on-demand, festival attendees don’t have to travel far and wide to see a movie. By opening the festival up to a wider audience, and not just those who are willing to fly to Utah or who are Utah locals, means more people have access to the festival. Which is so exciting. 

My hope is that the Sundance Institute will create a happy medium between this year’s festival and what they’ve done in the past. By allowing their films, even a select amount of films, to be available to a larger audience, more individuals can reap the benefits that the Sundance Film Festival provides each year. 

Now, on to the films I saw.

I saw three films over the weekend: Homeroom, Together Together, and Mass.

Homeroom, directed by Peter Nick, is part three of a documentary, showing the lives of a handful of high school seniors during the 2019-2020 year in Oakland, California. Each of these students are involved with their school’s city council program. These kids fight for the removal of school police and funds to be allocated toward what they consider  more important programs, all while dealing with daily social pressures of high school. 

Together Together, written and directed by Nikole Beckwith, is a comedy drama about a surrogate mother and the man who hired her starring Patti Harrison and Ed Helms. This film deals with its unique and awkward situation in a humorous, touching way. It features amazing performances from its two leads and is sure to be a crowd pleaser once it hits theaters. 
Mass, written and directed by Fran Kranz, is the story of two couples who reconvene years after a horrific school shooting, each struggling  to understand the points of view from the other side of the table. Most of the film takes place in one room, with a very dialogue driven plot that is powerful, emotional and honest with its subject matter. The acting performances are some of the best I’ve seen in recent years. And man, what an ending …  This was Kranz’s directorial debut and he’s already proven to have a strong understanding of how to write engaging characters, as well as  a simple, yet intriguing storyline.

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