Sundance Institute moves filmmakers’ labs from Robert Redford’s resort to online, because of coronavirus

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For the first time in its nearly 40-year history, the Sundance Institute won’t be holding its summer filmmakers’ labs at founder Robert Redford’s Sundance resort in Utah’s Provo Canyon.

The institute’s executive director, Keri Putnam, announced that and other programming changes — a response to the coronavirus pandemic — in a letter to the arts nonprofit’s supporters Tuesday evening.

“Finding our way through this situation as individuals and organizations — and as a field — is difficult, but it is also an opportunity to recognize and draw strength from the fact that we are all in this together,” Putnam wrote.

Sundance Institute will be closing down all live events through August, Putnam announced. That includes the labs at the Sundance resort, and the Film Music Program at George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, Calif.

Sundance also is postponing its film festivals in London, set for May 28-31, and in Hong Kong, whose dates had not been set. (Last year’s Hong Kong festival took place in September.) Those festivals usually play international premieres of movies that debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City.

Sundance’s work to support independent artists will continue online, Putnam stressed. The institute is adapting most of its live programs to its recently launched digital platform, Sundance Co//ab.

Putnam noted that the first program adapted to Co//ab, a workshop held last week on making and launching a short film, drew more than 1,600 online attendees from around the world — far more than the 120 that would have been in the audience in San Jose, Calif., where it was originally scheduled.

Sundance has opened its webinars, member Q&As and master classes to anyone for free. Those programs previously had been available only to paid members.

Support for artists, which Putnam called “our core work,” will be expanded, especially as many filmmakers are dealing with financial hardships during the coronavirus outbreak. “We have preserved and set aside a fund for artist support, and are working now to determine how best to provide assistance in this challenging moment,” Putnam wrote.

Putnam also touted an ongoing effort to work with other arts groups — a collaboration with the National Endowment for the Arts — to help artists and organizations in the field. This includes holding biweekly “virtual field meetings” and posting shared resources and tools on the Co//lab platform.

Sundance is also looking toward next January’s Sundance Film Festival, sharing ideas with other festivals and nonprofits to help support filmmakers who missed out on spring premieres when their festivals — such as SXSW and Tribeca — had to cancel because of coronavirus.

The filmmakers labs, held every June, have been the centerpiece of the institute’s programming since Redford founded Sundance in 1981. The institute invites a handful of filmmakers to workshop their projects in the Utah mountains, using film crews who turn the resort’s cabins and event spaces into sets, filming and editing scenes under the guidance of faculty advisers plucked from the industry.

The three-week Directors Lab is followed by a one-week intensive Screenwriters Lab, where about 15 writers pore over their scripts. (Another Screenwriters Lab is held in January, just before the film festival.) In recent years, the institute has added labs for documentary filmmakers, film composers and VR artists.

Some prominent directors worked on their first films in the Sundance labs, including: Quentin Tarantino (“Reservoir Dogs”), Wes Anderson (“Bottle Rocket”), Paul Thomas Anderson (“Hard Eight”), Kimberly Peirce (“Boys Don’t Cry”), John Cameron Mitchell (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch”), Miranda July (“Me and You and Everyone We Know”) and Ryan Coogler (“Fruitvale Station”).