NewsCoronavirusLocal Coronavirus News


Sundance Film Festival cancels in-person events during ongoing COVID surge

Posted at 1:10 PM, Jan 05, 2022

PARK CITY, Utah — The Sundance Film Festival on Wednesday announced it's canceling all in-person events for 2022, at the same time the omicron variant of COVID-19 smashed Utah's daily-case record.

According to a statement, staff for the world-famous film festival had spent the past year planning a hybrid festival which would have included both in-person and virtual events.

Utah recorded more than 7,200 new cases on Wednesday, doubling the state's previous single-day record. Health leaders say the omicron variant now accounts for more than 90% of all COVID cases and there has been a 400% spike in cases arriving at local hospitals since Christmas.

The in-person portion of this year's festival was anticipated to attract thousands of artists, promoters, filmakers, employees, volunteers and movie fans to Park City from Thursday, January 20 to Sunday, January 30.

“This is a difficult virus to combat, especially with the omicron it spreads so easily,” said Dr. Leisha Nolen, state epidemiologist. “So whatever we can do to protect people is really valuable.”

Nolen said around ninety percent of those cases are from the new variant and there’s probably many more not on record.

“As much as we had a dramatic number today, we think it’s actually quite an undercount,” she said. “That’s because we know home tests are being used more and more.”

Summit County issued a COVID-19 advisory on Tuesday. Nolen said a lot of the crowds coming in to Park City are bringing more cases.

“A lot of omicron is being brought in, a lot of COVID is being brought into Summit County through their tourism industry,” she said.

The film festival’s switch to online-only is a major hit for local businesses.

At the Crystal Park Cantina, manager Manuel Valiente said they hired more staff to prep for Sundance. Now, he says they may have to cut staff.

“We’re talking about a huge money impact just here in Park City,” he said.

He said some places can’t afford another year without the festival.

“It’s like hoping for the best again, you know?” said Valiente. “Wait for another year and wait for what happens in January.”

The festival will now be held completely virtually, online. The announcement comes on the same day it was announced that the 64th Annual Grammy Awards had also been canceled.

Read the entire statement from the festival below:

As a nonprofit arts organization, the Sundance Institute has held the Sundance Film Festival for close to forty years to support artists and introduce their work to audiences, creating a community around independent storytelling. 

We have been looking forward to our first fully hybrid Sundance Film Festival and our teams have spent a year planning a festival like no other. But despite the most ambitious protocols, the Omicron variant with its unexpectedly high transmissibility rates is pushing the limits of health safety, travel and other infrastructures across the country. And so, today we’re announcing: the Festival’s in-person Utah elements will be moving online this year. While we’re disappointed to not provide the full hybrid experience and gather in-person as intended, audiences this year will still experience the magic and energy of our Festival with bold new films and XR work, the discovery of new storytellers, direct encounters with artists, and an innovative globally accessible social platform and gallery space. Our partner community will also be adding a vibrant dimension to the festival with a rich mix of conversation, talent talks and events.

While it is a deep loss to not have the in-person experience in Utah, we do not believe it is safe nor feasible to gather thousands of artists, audiences, employees, volunteers, and partners from around the world, for an eleven-day festival while overwhelmed communities are already struggling to provide essential services.

This was a difficult decision to make. As a nonprofit, our Sundance spirit is in making something work against the odds. But with case numbers forecasted to peak in our host community the week of the festival we cannot knowingly put our staff and community at risk. The undue stress to Summit County’s health services and our more than 1,500 staff and volunteers would be irresponsible in this climate. It has become increasingly clear over the last few days that this is the right decision to make for the care and well-being of all of our community.

The Festival is important not only to the artists and audiences who gather each year, but also as the most essential fundraiser for underwriting the Institute’s year-round artist support work. We are thrilled to be able to convene the 2022 edition of the Sundance Film Festival online, building on the success of last year. In addition to reaching global audiences, we forged a path for immersive online experiences that we are building on in 2022. And while we will be proud to again deliver an incredible digital experience of the 2022 Festival, our belief in the unique power of gathering in person as an independent storytelling community remains.

In two weeks, we will gather together online to celebrate independent storytelling and introduce you to remarkable artists and their work. The Festival will begin Thursday, January 20, 2022 as planned. Our eleven days of online programming will proceed, with screening schedule adjustments to account for an online only schedule. Our seven satellite partners will host screenings for their local communities from January 28-30.

We ask for your patience as we work to make the necessary adjustments. We will be in touch with all pass and package holders and ticket purchasers. with an update on already purchased tickets. As previously announced, single tickets will now go on sale January 13 (January 12 for the membership pre-sale) at 10 a.m. MT.

We believe in the transformative power of artists and their work. Today, as we navigate all that the pandemic throws at us we go back to what is certain: Gathering together -- in whatever way we can -- is profound. Community matters. We follow the artist. So, we look forward to sharing with you the extraordinary work that fuels our Festival, experiencing it together, and celebrating the artists who will change the culture.