Organizers of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival are putting Hollywood’s talk of diversity into action, announcing changes to the event’s programming staff, panels and press corps.
The Sundance Institute, the Robert Redford-founded arts nonprofit that runs the January festival in Park City and Salt Lake City, announced Monday that it is adding to its programming team — the people who decide what films are screened at the festival — to strike a 50/50 gender balance.
Three women have been added to the programming staff: Dilcia Barrera as a programmer, Stephanie Owens as an associate programmer and Sudeep Sharma as a shorts programmer. In addition, programming coordinator Ana Souza has been promoted to manager of programming, and will be an associate programmer.
The festival’s team of senior programmers — led by festival director John Cooper and newly installed programming director Kim Yutani — remains the same, with three women (including Yutani) and five men (including Cooper).
Yutani, the first woman and first person of color to lead the programming of a major film festival, said in a statement that her team “has refined our curation processes, ensuring that the conversations we have as we program continue to center, as always, on a festival that represents a wide range of filmmakers and on-screen experiences.”
The team has been busy, plowing through a record 14,200 submissions. The festival is expected to follow tradition and announce its slate — usually around 120 feature films and between 60 and 80 shorts, plus episodic programming and special events — sometime after Thanksgiving weekend.
That process promises to be more transparent than ever. Sundance Institute also announced Monday that it is teaming with Stacy L. Smith, the founder and director of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, on a research project that will analyze the demographics of submissions to the festival. The study will look at gender, race and ethnicity, and include both the festival films and Sundance’s labs and artist-support programs. Results of Smith’s research will be presented during the festival.
Meanwhile, the festival aims to open up its press credentials to a wider variety of journalists. Following up on a promise issued this summer by “Captain Marvel” star Brie Larson, the festival’s media team will allocate at least 20 percent of its top-tier press passes to women, people of color, LGBTQIA+ people and people with disabilities.
The media team will also work with critics who are festival first-timers to navigate the Park City scene. Among those newbie critics will be the sixth class of Roger Ebert Fellows, emerging writers, critics and filmmakers chosen by RogerEbert.com publisher Chaz Ebert.
Programming at the festival’s panel discussions may have a new look, as well. Senior programmer John Nein, who has organized the panel line-up for years, will now share those duties with Tabitha Jackson, director of Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program.
Also new to this year’s festival: an invitation-only “talent forum,” set for Jan. 29-31, in which emerging storytellers — chosen from Sundance Institute’s labs and programs — will present new work to industry attendees.
The festival will run from Jan. 24 to Feb. 3, in Park City and at venues in Salt Lake City and the Sundance resort.