As the Venice, Toronto and New York Film Festivals demonstrated earlier this year, a memorable celebration of cinema can still be held in the middle of a pandemic. The next major cinephile event on the calendar is America’s independent cinema showcase, the Sundance Film Festival. The Sundance Institute previously announced that a majority of the 2021 edition would mostly occur virtually, but today they revealed more details including a slate of satellite cities that will hold events and screen films in drive-ins and theaters in 24 states, Washington, D.C. and, impressively, Puerto Rico.

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As previously dated, the seven-day event will run from January 28 through February 3, 2021. All the films in the official program will be available to view online in the U.S., with certain selections opting for global availability. The full talks and events program, as well as the New Frontier section for XR and emerging media, will be available worldwide. All virtual and screenings will be available at the festival’s custom-built platform,

In a statement, Tabitha Jackson, the new Festival Director, noted, “Even under these impossible circumstances artists are still finding paths to make bold and vital work in whatever ways they can. So Sundance, as a festival of discovery, will bring that work to its first audiences in whatever ways we can. The core of our Festival in the form of an online platform and socially distanced cinematic experiences is responsive to the pandemic and gives us the opportunity to reach new audiences, safely, where they are. And thanks to a constellation of independent cinema communities across the U.S. we are not putting on our Festival alone. At the heart of all this is a belief in the power of coming together, and the desire to preserve what makes a festival unique — a collaborative spirit, a collective energy, and a celebration of the art, artists, and ideas that leave us changed.”

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Sundance Institute Executive Director Keri Putnam added, “Our Festival footprint has changed this year, but we are excited to bring an incredible community together in new ways to engage with new artists and new stories — whether they’re joining us for the first year or have been for decades. Our ambition is for everyone to come together, safely, wherever they may be, and participate in screenings on our platform at the same time. The Sundance team has consulted with artists, worked with incredible partners, and built a plan to welcome new audiences and capture a true Festival spirit.”

The institute provided important details for virtual attendees, media and filmmakers in today’s announcement such as the following:

*The traditional “Day One” will still occur on Thursday, January 28 beginning at 6 PM Mountain Time.

*Each of the 70+ feature films will premiere online in a dedicated time slot, followed by a live Q&A. (Note: In 2020, 118 films screened at the festival)

*Multiple films will premiere simultaneously roughly every three hours from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. U.S. Mountain Time. This rollout is designed to preserve the energy of a Festival, with an abundance of choices and collective experiences, as audiences can begin the film simultaneously, and participate in the live Q&A which follows (viewers can also begin films any time within three hours of their premiere’s start).

*Every film will return to the platform two days after its premiere for a “second screening,” offered on demand for 24 hours.

The festival’s digital movie player is powered by Shift72 and developed with best-in-industry security and access practices. In a Festival first, the entire 70+-feature lineup on the platform will be closed-captioned on-demand and Q&As will be live-captioned.

Additionally,the Short Film and Indie Series (formerly Indie Episodic) programs, focused on creative storytelling outside the feature format, will include 50 short films and world premieres of four episodic works. These will be available on demand on the festival platform for the full length of the Festival.

The New Frontier section of the festival will continue with 14 works selected. The festival notes that for the first time ever, adventurous audiences around the world will be given the chance to engage with the works, the artists, and each other via a bespoke virtual platform, accessible via computer and VR headsets. The New Frontier Gallery will host the complete slate of live performances, AR, VR, and other emerging media works. Cinema House is the Festival’s fully immersive, big-screen theater, and Film Party is an interactive social space where the entire community of accredited Festivalgoers can safely gather together again. The environment also features interactive tools such as proximity audio and video chat.

The most intriguing aspect of today’s announcement is the fact that Sundance is expanding beyond its Park City, Utah roots in a major way. The festival has championed a network of partnerships including talks, events and artist-meet ups in these cities. Most, but not all, will screen selections from the 2021 program.

Jackson notes, “These partners are the backbone of independent artistic communities across the country, where filmmakers are born and cinephiles are developed. We’re entering these partnerships because a healthy ecosystem for artists and audiences requires that independent cinemas across the country survive and thrive.”

The Institute will program screenings at the Ray in Park City for local Utah residents and have two Los Angeles area Drive-In venues: the Rose Bowl and Mission Tiki Drive-Ins. With movie theaters closed in LA County since the pandemic began, these venues have been busy since early spring hosting both commercial and industry screenings. The Rose Bowl hosted a Telluride Film Festival premiere for Chloe Zhao’s “Nomadland” in September as well as numerous Emmy events. Mission Tiki has done a brisk business with mostly new releases. If that venue commits its four screens to the festival during this period it will be quite popular with LA cinephiles looking to see the festival selections on the big screen.

The institute disclosed that programming details for the films at these screens will be available when the program is announced later this month. Moreover, these plans will evolve in conjunction with the COVID-19 pandemic health and safety guidelines. Participating U.S. partner organizations and locations include:

Alabama: Birmingham with Sidewalk Film Festival

Sidewalk Film Center, Sidewalk Drive-In

Arizona: Tucson with The Loft Cinema

The Loft Open Air Cinema


Montclair with American Cinematheque – Mission Tiki Drive-In

Pasadena with the Rose Bowl – Rose Bowl Drive-In

San Francisco with The Roxie Theater – Roxie Theater, Fort Mason Drive-In

Colorado: Denver with Denver Film

Sie FilmCenter


Key West with Tropic Cinema – Tropic Cinema, The Key West Lighthouse, The Truman Little White House, The Ernest Hemingway House and Museum

Miami with Third Horizon and O Cinema – New World Symphony SoundScape Park and South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center


Atlanta with Atlanta Film Society – The Plaza Theater, Plaza Drive-In, Dad’s Garage Drive-In

Macon with Macon Film Festival – Douglass Theatre

Hawaii: Honolulu with Doris Duke Theatre at the Honolulu Museum of Art (HoMA)

Iowa: Iowa City with FilmScene

FilmScene at The Chauncey

Kansas: Wichita with microcinema, Wichita Art Museum, Groover Labs

Kentucky: Louisville with The Speed Art Museum

Speed Art Museum

Louisiana: New Orleans with New Orleans Film Society

The Broad Theater

Maryland: Baltimore with Maryland Film Festival

Stavros Niarchos Foundation Parkway Theater

Massachusetts: Brookline with Coolidge Corner Theatre

Coolidge Corner Theatre

Michigan: Detroit with Cinema Detroit

Minnesota: Minneapolis-St. Paul with FilmNorth

Riverview Theater

New York: Pleasantville with The Jacob Burns Film Center

Jacob Burns Film Center & Media Arts Lab

Ohio: Columbus with Gateway Film Center

Gateway Film Center

Oklahoma: Tulsa with Circle Cinema

Circle Cinema, Circle Cinema Drive-In, Admiral Twin Drive-In, Philbrook Museum, OSU-Tulsa, Tulsa University, Gilcrease Museum

Pennsylvania: Philadelphia with BlackStar Film Festival

Puerto Rico: San Juan with Asociación de Documentalistas de Puerto Rico (AdocPR)

Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico (MAPR)

South Carolina: Columbia with The Luminal Theater

Spotlight Cinemas Capitol 8


Memphis with Indie Memphis – Malco Summer Drive-In

Nashville with Belcourt Theatre – Belcourt Theatre


Austin with Austin Film Society – AFS Cinema

Dallas with Aviation Cinemas – Texas Theatre

Houston with Houston Cinema Arts Society – MoonStruck Drive-In, DeLUXE Theater


Park City – The Ray

Salt Lake City with Salt Lake Film Society


Seattle with Northwest Film Forum

The 2021 Sundance Film Festival will be held from Jan 28 – Feb. 3, 2021. Look for continuing coverage on The Playlist.