Why the in-person portion of the Sundance Film Festival was canceled

PARK CITY, UTAH - JANUARY 27: General atmosphere on January 27, 2021 in Park City, Utah. The Sundance Film Festival is going virtual this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Mark Sagliocco/Getty Images)
PARK CITY, UTAH - JANUARY 27: General atmosphere on January 27, 2021 in Park City, Utah. The Sundance Film Festival is going virtual this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Mark Sagliocco/Getty Images) /

It seemed rather hopeful that the Sundance Film Festival was going to be able to pull off the in-person portion of its stellar event. Held in Park City, Utah, the Sundance Film Festival is considered the preeminent event to kickstart the movie year with the buzz and excitement that has reverberated from packed Park City movie theaters at the beginning of the year. Due to the Omicron coronavirus surge, Sundance made the difficult decision to go completely virtual, beginning Jan. 20.

Last year’s festival also occurred virtually, but hope was placed in the comprehensive way Sundance had put protocols in place, including requiring vaccination boosters for all attendees and workers, slimmed-down audience capacity, and the removal of any food or drink options in the theaters. The festival seemed to take the lead in its ability to handle an in-person festival with full mask mandates, vaccination proof, as well as testing requirements for select events.

Sundance also incorporated an online portion to supplement the in-person experience to reach more underserved populations and greater access to the film industry. Additional theaters throughout the nation were added to the festival footprint as well. Now those who couldn’t attend in Park City in person would have the opportunity to witness the groundbreaking films as they premiered rather than waiting until they hit the public circuit many months afterward. The hybrid approach seemed to be the novel way to get back to normal while integrating more options for increased access.

However, with Omicron cases ravaging Utah where hospitals are overloaded with cases, including 4,661 new cases, 400 percent increases in certain hospitals, and 7 deaths just on Tuesday, it proved too much for the festival to go on.

"“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 eleven-day festival while overwhelmed communities are already struggling to provide essential services,” said the festival in a statement.“This was a difficult decision to make. As a nonprofit, our Sundance spirit is in making something work against the odds. But with case numbers forecasted to peak in our host community the week of the festival 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. It has  become increasingly clear over the last few days that this is the right decision to make for the care and well-being of all of our community.”"

I had planned to be there myself and was lucky to change my hotel stay, but not everyone has been so fortunate, with some of the hotels in Park City holding onto their draconian 30-day cancelation policy and threatening to charge attendees with a first night rate if they cancel. The hotel prices are outrageous, with many nights in the thousands, with St. Regis charging over $9,000 for a regular room. Many of the rooms were to be shared with others in the industry or covering the event, who are now not attending. Yet despite the surging cases, some hotels are still sticking with the policy (shame).

The cancelation of Sundance is a big blow to the entertainment industry, which has already been struggling to come back during a pandemic that has forced many of its marquee events to take place virtually. The Golden Globes and Grammy awards shows also announced that they will take place completely online.

For everyone’s health and peace of mind, the Sundance Film Festival made the right decision. We all want to meet in person again, but we also want to remain healthy.

Sundance will run Jan. 20-30, with 82 feature-length films. Online is a great way to see some of the most talked-about films of the year from some of the most talented artists in the industry. You can check out the full programming here.