The Sidewalk Film Center + Cinema in downtown Birmingham and the Sidewalk Film Festival announced that they are participating in the 2021 digital Sundance Film Festival. As a partner, the Sidewalk Film Center + Cinema in the heart of Birmingham’s historic theatre district will serve as a satellite venue for this seven-day festival, hosted by the Sundance Institute.
“Sidewalk is thrilled to have been selected as one of only 30 sites across the country to partner with Sundance, a leader in the independent film industry for over 40 years, for their unique 2021 festival,” said Sidewalk Executive Director Chloe Cook. “Our organization has a long history of providing unique content to the Birmingham community and building audiences for indie films from around the world, and we see this exciting partnership with Sundance as an extension of those efforts. We look forward to welcoming local audiences to our pop-up drive-in and cinema (with lots of health and safety precautions in place) as a satellite screen for the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.”
Sundance Institute will offer the festival digitally via a custom-designed online platform (festival.sundance.org), alongside drive-ins, independent arthouses and a network of local community partnerships. The online expression of the Sundance Film Festival will provide global access for storytellers and audiences alike to come together, experience artists’ new work, connect with one another and participate in conversation. Sundance Institute, founded in 1981 by Robert Redford, is a nonprofit organization that provides and preserves the space for artists in film, theater, film composing and digital media to create and thrive.
All films in the program will be available online in the United States, with certain films offered globally. The full talks and events program, as well as the New Frontier section for XR and emerging media, will be available globally. The festival will run from Jan. 28 through Feb. 3.
“Even under these impossible circumstances, artists are still finding paths to make bold and vital work in whatever ways they can,” said Tabitha Jackson, Sundance Festival director. “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.”
Sundance Institute Executive Director Keri Putnam said the organization is looking forward to reaching more audiences than ever before through this online platform.
“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,” said Putnam. “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.”
As at past Sundance Film Festivals, feature films will premiere throughout the day, with “day one” films set to debut Thursday, Jan. 28 at 7 p.m. Central time. During the 2021 festival, each of the more than 70 feature films will premiere online in a dedicated time slot, followed by a live Q&A.
Multiple films will premiere simultaneously roughly every 3 hours from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Central time. This rollout is designed to preserve the energy of a festival, with an abundance of choices and collective experiences. Audiences will begin the film simultaneously and participate in the live Q&A that follows. Viewers can also begin films any time within 3 hours of the start of the premiere’s start.
All films will return to the platform two days after their premiere for a “second screening,” offered on demand for 24 hours. The platform’s movie player is powered by Shift72 and developed with best-in-industry security and access practices. In a festival first, the entire lineup of more than 70 feature films on the platform will be closed-captioned on demand and Q&As will be live-captioned.
The Short Film and Indie Series 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 Sundance Festival platform for the full length of the festival.
The Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontier has served as a showcase for dynamic, innovative work at the crossroads of film, art and technology, and 2021 is no exception, with 14 works in the program. 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 virtual reality headsets.
The New Frontier Gallery hosts the complete slate of live performances, augmented reality, virtual reality 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 festival goers can safely gather together again. The environment also features interactive tools such as proximity audio and video chat.
Expanding beyond its Utah home, the Sundance Festival has created a network of partnerships to bring feature films and customized local programming – talks, events, artist meet-ups – to Birmingham and other communities across the country. Each satellite screen will create and host its own events, sharing local cultural conversations with broader festival audiences, with most also screening selections from the 2021 program.
“These partners are the backbone of independent artistic communities across the country, where filmmakers are born and cinephiles are developed,” Jackson said. “We’re entering these partnerships because a healthy ecosystem for artists and audiences requires that independent cinemas across the country survive and thrive.”
Tickets and passes for those who want to experience the festival for the full run, a single day or a single screening will be available to the general public beginning Jan. 7; further details will be available later this month. For more information, sign up at Festival.Sundance.org.