Panels, concerts and a big fire: What Sundance 2020 will do besides screening films

(Chris Pizzello | Invision/AP file photo) Filmmaker Ron Howard, seen here in 2018, will be one of the speakers in the Cinema Cafe line-up at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. His documentary, "Rebuilding Paradise," will premiere at the festival.

One of the oldest forms of storytelling — gathering around the fire — will be a centerpiece of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival’s offscreen events.

A bonfire is planned for Thursday, Jan. 30, from 4:30 p.m. to sunset, at the Flagpole parking lot, 557 Swede Alley, Park City. It’s free and open to as many people as space permits.

It’s one of many offscreen events — panel discussions, concerts and conversations — planned for the festival, running Jan. 23 to Feb. 2 in Park City, and at venues in Salt Lake City and the Sundance resort in Provo Canyon.

Festival director John Cooper will speak at the bonfire — something he’s tried to arrange for several years. The fire will highlight the 2020 festival’s theme of “Imagined Futures.”

That theme will be carried out with two “Imagined Futures Screenings,” with extended Q&A sessions to dive into the subject matter of the films.

The first, Friday, Jan. 24, at 6 p.m., at the Grand Theatre in Salt Lake City, will follow the documentary “Crip Camp,” which chronicles the first summer camp for disabled kids, in the early 1970s in upstate New York, and how those kids grew up to be advocates for disabled rights. The panel after the screening will feature the filmmakers along with Shandra Benito, executive director of Art Access in Salt Lake City.

The second “Imagined Futures Screening” is set for Sunday, Jan. 26, at 8:15 p.m. at the MARC Theatre in Park City, following the movie “The Assistant,” a drama focusing on a lowly worker (Julia Garner) who witnesses evidence of her boss’s sexual misconduct. The panel will include the filmmakers, and Ai-jen Poo, co-founder and executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Shirley Li of The Atlantic will moderate.

One panel not happening this year is the festival’s annual opening-day news conference. For years, this was the media’s one chance to pose questions to Sundance Institute founder Robert Redford. Last year, though, Redford appeared onstage at the Egyptian for about a minute to say hello, then disappeared backstage and left the questions to Cooper, institute director Keri Putnam, and festival programmers.

Instead of a news conference, organizers are compiling a digital substitute, the Day One Press Kit, which will include video remarks from Sundance Institute leadership and details about the festival and the institute’s global year-round work. The press kit will be distributed by email on Jan. 23, the festival’s first day.


Besides a week of performances at the ASCAP Music Cafe, the festival will feature three major concerts. Both types of events will happen at The Shop, at 1167 Woodside Ave., near the Park City Library Center. All are open to festival credential holders, as space allows.

• The “Celebration of Music in Film,” Saturday, Jan. 25, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., is headlined by singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright, with opening acts Sharon Van Etten (who appears in the U.S. Dramatic competition film “Never Rarely Sometimes Always”) and Cuban composer Jorge Aragón Brito, an alumni of the institute’s Film Music Program.

The BMI Snowball, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 8 to 10 p.m. (doors open at 7:30 p.m.), is a program of women artists, headlined by singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb, and including California singer-songwriter Chloé Caroline and an acoustic alt-pop set by songwriter Georgia Ku.

“From Sleep,” on Friday, Jan. 31, 8 p.m., will feature composer Max Richter performing a 90-minute version of his eight-hour opus, “Sleep,” with a string quintet from New York’s American Contemporary Music Ensemble and soprano Grace Davidson. A Q&A follows with Richter; his creative partner and producer of “Sleep,” Yulia Mahr; and filmmaker Natalie Johns (“Max Richter’s Sleep”).


The following panel discussions are scheduled in Park City. Some require tickets, some are open to festival credential holders, some are open to anyone, as space permits.

“Mexico’s New New Wave” • Friday, Jan. 24, 2 to 3:30 p.m., Filmmakers Lodge, 550 Main St. (second floor); open to credential holders. Exploring the cinematic energy coming out of Mexico, with filmmakers Rodrigo Ruiz Patterson (“Summer White (Blanco de Verano)”), Fernanda Valadez (“Identifying Features (Sin Señas Particulares)”), Elena Fortes (“Vivos”) and Edher Campos (“I Carry You With Me”). Moderated by Los Angeles Times critic Carlos Aguilar.

“Truth to Power” • Saturday, Jan. 25, 2 to 3:30 p.m., Filmmaker Lodge, 550 Main St. (second floor); open to credential holders. Two journalists who have taken on authoritarian regimes — Maria Ressa in the Philippines (shown in “A Thousand Cuts”) and Russian journalist and New Yorker columnist Masha Gessen (featured in “Welcome to Chechnya”) — talk about their roles as truth tellers with Patrick Gaspard, president of Open Society Foundations, and author/journalist Farai Chideya.

“Power of Story: Just Art” • Saturday, Jan. 25, 2:30 p.m., Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St.; ticket required. Talking to artists “who use art to push boundaries, provoke, inspire, disorient orthodoxy and reshape culture.” The panel features “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, film and stage director Julie Taymor, actor-producer Kerry Washington, and artist-photographer Carrie Mae Weems.

“Digital Aerosol and the Re-imaginarium” • Sunday, Jan. 26, noon to 1:30 p.m., The Box at The Ray, 1768 Park Ave.; open to the public. Artist and filmmaker Kahlil Josph (“BLKNWS”) and “Grey’s Anatomy” actor and cultural critic Jesse Williams have a “fireside chat” — moderated by Macro founder/CEO Charles D. King — about world building “in a society whose attention is trapped inside a matrix of digital platforms.”

“Under Whose AI?” • Sunday, Jan. 26, 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., Filmmakers Lodge, 550 Main St. (second floor); open to credential holders. Media artist and filmmaker Lynn Hershman Neeson and MIT computer scientist Joy Buolamwini (featured in the documentary “Coded Bias”) “explore machine learning and the future it predicts, the possibility of algorithmic justice, and ways to subvert what Buolamwini calls the ‘coded gaze.’” Moderated by Adrienne LaFrance, executive editor of The Atlantic.

“Creators’ Union” • Monday, Jan. 27, noon to 1:30 p.m., The Box at The Ray, 1768 Park Ave.; open to the public. Billed as “A Workshop on Content Creators Participating in the Data Economy,” this panel looks at how creators can make sure their intentions and ethics power the growing data economy. The panel includes: Tim Kendall, former director of monetization for Facebook (seen in the documentary “The Social Dilemma”); data visualization artist Karim Amer (“Persuasion Machines”); producer Jess Engel; Bethany Haynes of Sloss Eckhouse LawCo; and Jesse Redniss of the GM Innovation Lab. Moderated by Roya Rastegar.

“Where the Truth Lies” • Monday, Jan. 27, 2 to 3:30 p.m., Filmmakers Lodge, 550 Main St. (second floor); open to credential holders. Documentarians Bill and Turner Ross (“Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets”) and Kirsten Johnson (“Dick Johnson Is Dead”) talk about using cinematic artifice to dig at deeper truths. Moderated by Alissa Wilkinson, film critic for Vox.

“AI, the Archive, and Creating Human Context on the New Frontier” • Tuesday, Jan. 28, noon to 1:30 p.m., The Box at The Ray, 1768 Park Ave.; open to the public. The question: “In a world of deep fakes and virtual beings, how are digital artists embracing the human archive?” Panelists include artists Lynn Hershman Neeson and Sandra Rodriguez, and Nancy McGovern, director of digital preservation at MIT. Moderated by Kamal Sinclair, of the Guild of Future Architects.

“Discovering Tomorrow” • Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2 to 3:30 p.m., Filmmakers Lodge, 550 Main St. (second floor); open to credential holders. A collection of scientists and filmmakers look at the role of visionary scientists, from Marie Curie to Nikolai Tesla to the Apollo astronauts, in advancing human knowledge. The panel includes actor Ethan Hawke, playwright and screenwriter Sarah Treem, and engineers P. James Schuck and Danijela Cabric.

“The Movie That Blew My Mind” • Tuesday, Jan. 28, 6:30 to 8 p.m., The Ray Theatre, 1768 Park Ave.; ticket required. To kick off the Sundance Institute Talent Forum, festival director John Cooper and Tabitha Jackson, director of Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program, ask panelists about the film that changed how they think about movies. Director-actor Tom McCarthy (“Spotlight,” “Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made”) and actor Tessa Thompson (“Sylvie’s Love,” “Thor: Ragnarok”) are among the panelists; more are yet to be confirmed.

“How Can Artists Reshape Politics?” • Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2 to 3:30 p.m., Filmmakers Lodge, 550 Main St. (second floor); open to credential holders. What would an artist-powered future look like? Panelists are Hank Willis Thomas, Eric Gottesman and Michelle Woo of For Freedoms, artists Kahlil Joseph (“BLKNWS”), Elissa Blount Moorhead and Amelia Winger-Bearskin, and the Guild of Future Architects Writers Room.

“Welcome to Biodigital Theatre” • Thursday, Jan. 30, noon to 1:30 p.m., The Box at The Ray, 1768 Park Ave.; open to the public. This panel looks at how game engines and immersive technologies are mixing with theater and dance in new ways. The panel includes Toby Coffey (“All Kinds of Limbo”), Gilles Jobin (“Dance Trail”), Yetunde Dada (“Atomu”), Theo Triantafyllidis (“Anti-Gone”) and Noah Nelson (publisher of “No Proscenium”). Moderated by Sarah Ellis, director of digital development at the Royal Shakespeare Company.

“Inside the TV Writers’ Room: An Interactive Experience” • Thursday, Jan. 30, 2 to 3:30 p.m., Filmmakers Lodge, 550 Main St. (second floor); open to credential holders. Showrunner Graham Yost (“Justified’) leads this interactive workshop, which will let the audience help reboot a classic TV series and talk through its development.

“Power of Story: The People Speak” • Thursday, Jan. 30, 3 p.m., Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St.; ticket required. Celebrating historian Howard Zinn 10 years after his death, this panel features readings and songs of the voices of rebels, dissenters and visionaries. Performances by poet Staceyann Chin, actor Ethan Hawke, singer-songwriter Celisse Henderson, actor Viggo Mortensen, actor Ntare Mbaho Guma Mwine, singer-songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello with guitarist Christopher Bruce, and actor Isabella Rossellini. Narrated by Anthony Arnove, co-director of “The People Speak” with Howard Zinn.

“The New Aesthetics of Disability” • Friday, Jan. 31, 2 to 3:30 p.m., Filmmakers Lodge, 550 Main St. (second floor); open to credential holders. Artists talk about bringing new perspectives to disability. The panelists are sound artist Nick Ryan (“The Reason I Jump”), director Rodney Evans (“Vision Portraits”), directors Nicole Newnham and Jim LeBrecht (“Crip Camp”) and Michelle Miles (“How Did We Get Here?”), and choreographer Alice Sheppard. Moderated by Eric Hynes, curator of film for the Museum of the Moving Image.

“The Feeling of Exile” • Saturday, Feb. 1, 2 to 3:30 p.m., Filmmakers Lodge, 550 Main St. (second floor); open to credential holders. What is it like to be exiled from your home country, censored or imprisoned for one’s work. Director Nanfu Wang (“One Child Nation”), filmmaker Oleg Sentsov (“Gamer”) and surgeon-turned-comedian Bassem Youssef talk about it. Moderated by Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America.

“Film Church” • Sunday, Feb. 2, 10:30 a.m. to noon, Filmmakers Lodge, 550 Main St. (second floor); open to credential holders. The annual festival wrap-up and hangover cure, as festival director John Cooper and programming director Kim Yutani talk about the 10 days of madness that preceded it. Special guests will include winners from the previous night’s awards ceremony.

Cinema Cafe

The series of one-on-one conversations happen at the Filmmakers Lodge, 550 Main St. (second floor), from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., unless otherwise noted. The conversations are free to credential holders, as space permits.

Friday, Jan. 24 • Ron Howard, director of “Rebuilding Paradise.”

Saturday, Jan. 25 • Carrie Brownstein and Annie Clark aka St. Vincent, musicians and co-stars of “The Nowhere Inn.”

Sunday, Jan 26 • Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State, with filmmaker Nanette Burstein, who directed the docuseries “Hillary.”

Tuesday, Jan. 28, noon to 1 p.m. • Actors Zazie Beetz (“Nine Days”), Elle Lorraine (“Bad Hair”) and Taylour Paige (“Zola”).

Wednesday, Jan. 29 • Actor-director Radha Blank (“The 40-Year-Old Version”) and actor Winston Duke (“Nine Days”).

Thursday, Jan. 30 • Kathreen Khavari, star and co-creator of the TV series “Embrace,” and Linas Phillips, director and star of the TV series “The Ride.”

Friday, Jan. 31 • Haifaa Al-Mansour, Saudi Arabian director of “The Perfect Candidate,” and Bassem Youssef, sometimes called “the Jon Stewart of Egypt.”