Sundance Film Festival cancels in-person Utah screenings amid COVID-19 surge

The 2022 festival, like the 2021 version, is going virtual.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) People visit historic Main Street in Park City on Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021. Sundance Film Festival on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022, canceled planned in-person screenings for the January event amid a recent spike in COVID-19 cases.

For the second year in a row, the Sundance Film Festival won’t be screening films in Utah because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Sundance Institute, the nonprofit arts group that operates the festival, announced Wednesday that it is canceling the in-person part of its planned hybrid 2022 festival in Utah due to a recent spike in coronavirus cases.

Now, it will be presenting its slate of 82 feature films and 59 short films online only, from Jan. 20-30.

“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 11-day festival while overwhelmed communities are already struggling to provide essential services,” festival director Tabitha Jackson and the institute’s new CEO, Joana Vicente, said in a statement.

The festival ran online-only in 2021, but organizers had been planning a hybrid festival — with screenings both in Park City and Salt Lake City venues, as well as online, for 2022.

In their statement, Jackson and Vicente wrote that “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.”

COVID-19 case counts are projected to peak in Park City during the latter half of January, organizers said, and “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,” the statement continued.

Park City Mayor Nann Worel, speaking for herself and the city council in a statement Wednesday, threw full support behind Sundance’s “incredibly difficult and yet compassionate decision. … The health and safety of our community remain our top priority, and we are fortunate to have a partner that shares these values. We encourage everyone to enjoy the festival’s magic virtually — and we look forward to gathering with festivalgoers online in 2022 and in-person in 2023.”

Virginia Pearce, director of the Utah Film Commission, said Wednesday in a statement, “The vibrant in-person experience is one that we all love about the Sundance Film Festival and it brings enormous economic benefits to the state. Having said that, we recognize the festival’s responsible decision to protect the health of all involved.”

In August, Sundance announced that all attendees — filmmakers, talent, volunteers, press, industry folks and ticket holders — would be required to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19.

The festival later announced a mask rule in September. Just before Christmas, Sundance added to that requirement, announcing that all attendees would need to be have received COVID-19 booster doses, if eligible.

Sundance will be in touch with people who bought passes, ticket packages and tickets for screenings in Utah, to update to online access.

The festival announced earlier this week that it would delay single-ticket sales, originally scheduled for this week, to Jan. 13 for the public and Jan. 12 for Sundance members. Those sales will go on, though in an online format.

Six episodic programs and 15 virtual, augmented and mixed reality works also are planned for Sundance’s online portal.

Screenings at seven satellite venues, set for Jan. 28-30, are still planned for now. Those satellite cities are: Amherst, Mass.; Baltimore; Lawrence, Kan.; Memphis; San Diego; Seattle; and Winston-Salem, N.C.

The Slamdance Film Festival, Sundance’s upstart rival festival, announced in December that it would cancel its plans to return to Park City’s Treasure Mountain Inn — opting instead for an online-only festival, Jan. 27 to Feb. 3.