Sundance Film Festival looking to trim to seven days for 2021, because of COVID-19

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Snow falls on the Egyptian Theatre on Main Street during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Friday January 20, 2017.

The 2021 Sundance Film Festival could be four days shorter, a week later and a lot less populated than usual, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Plans for a shorter festival, with a quarter of the usual crowds in venues, will be discussed and voted on by Park City’s city council on Tuesday.

According to a council staff report, Sundance tentatively is envisioning a seven-day festival, rather than the usual 11-day event, in Park City. The festival would run from Jan. 28 to Feb. 3 — a start date that’s a week later than the planned Jan. 21 opening night.

The staff report notes Sundance Institute, Robert Redford’s nonprofit arts group that organizes the festival, is planning “a significant shift away from a live, in-person approach to a virtual-based festival.” Such a change will be costly to the city, the report said, “as theater capacity and resulting ticket revenues are likely to be reduced by 75% of normal occupancy to ensure the health and safety of attendees.”

Sundance is also asking the council to waive for one year a requirement that 70% of the festival take place in Park City. This would allow Sundance to carry out plans to stage screenings and events in more than 20 cities across North America — an idea the festival’s new director, Tabitha Jackson, first announced in an open letter in late June.

The staff’s recommendation would have the city continue to use the Park City Library as a festival venue, and to work with Sundance to make the festival’s newest venue, The Ray, available. If the staff report is approved, the city would also reduce transportation requirements for the festival.

City staff and the institute are still working on final details for the 2021 festival, but, the staff’s report said, “Sundance is unable to continue planning without [the city council] first approving the reduced scope and changed dates.”

A spokesman for Sundance Institute said Monday that festival organizers will present and discuss more details of their 2021 plans at Tuesday’s council meeting.