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Sundance Film Festival’s online screenings drew a wider audience than its traditional showcase

More than 250,000 saw digital entries after organizers had to abandon in-person events in Park City due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) A banner for the Sundance Film Festival on Main Street in Park City on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021.

The 2021 Sundance Film Festival — presented online this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic — logged more than a quarter-million views of its movies during its seven-day run, festival organizers announced Monday.

Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute reported that festival attendees tallied 251,331 online views of the 73 feature films, 50 short films and four independent TV series during the festival, which ended last week.

That is more than the 215,873 seats filled during the 2020 festival in Park City, and venues in Salt Lake City and the Sundance resort — which drew some 116,800 people, according to Sundance’s own economic impact survey.

The 2021 festival’s “satellite screens,” with 40 theaters run by 20 art-house partners across the country, drew an estimated 20,000 attendees to its drive-in and socially distanced indoor and outdoor seated screenings, the institute reported.

The festival’s 23 talks and panel discussions recorded another 22,267 views.

The New Frontier exhibition had 39,869 visits in its virtual space, either through computers or virtual reality headsets. During the brick-and-mortar festival in Park City, the New Frontier space — which occupies a former Blockbuster Video store — draws an average of about 2,000 visitors.

Looking at the numbers, festival director Tabitha Jackson said in a statement, “there’s still a lot to learn, but we are delighted that a combination of online and in-person participation, innovative social spaces, hard work, and a lot of crossed fingers came together to expand and connect audiences for the incredible slate of work we were lucky enough to program this year.”

Nearly half the festival attendees, or 48%, were between ages 18 and 34, the institute reported. That’s roughly on par with attendance figures for the 2020 festival, when people were attending in person in Park City and Salt Lake City.

The institute said that 85% of the viewings were filled by $15 single-ticket sales, with the rest going to pass holders.

Attendees watched from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Though some films were limited to U.S. audiences, the festival still drew viewers from 120 countries and territories worldwide.

Festival organizers declared their “premiere” plan — giving each film a three-hour window for its first screening, with live Q&As, to simulate an in-person debut event — a success, with 64% of viewers watching the films within that window.

The festival met its goal of providing discounts to at least 20% of anticipated attendees, the institute said, to increase access to younger audiences and historically marginalized communities.

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