Sundance Film Festival Names Tabitha Jackson as Director

Filmmaker Tabitha Jackson has been named the incoming director of the Sundance Film Festival, succeeding outgoing director John Cooper.

Sundance, America’s premiere festival and sales market for global independent film, elevates Jackson from her previous role as director of the Sundance Institute’s documentary film program. Cooper, who vacates the role after 11 years, has been named director emeritus.

Jackson will work closely with programming chief Kim Yutani and senior leadership to craft the festival’s overall vision and strategy. She comes out ahead of over 700 applicants, festival executive director Keri Putnam told Variety, who scoured international art and non-profit organizations for the role.

“Tabitha is fiercely devoted to independent artists, has been a visionary member of the Sundance Institute’s leadership team for the last 6 years. Her authenticity, experience and perspective will serve her well in leading the festival forward as a beacon for independent artists and audiences,” said Putnam.

The news was announced during the festival’s annual awards ceremony in Park City, Utah, honoring the best films of 2020 to play in the official selection.

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Festival founder Robert Redford, who Jackson told Variety was roughly the 14th interviewer she sat with in recent months, shared that he was “pleased to have Tabitha lead us as we move into the future and meet the next generation of artists and their stories.”

Jackson has served as the director of the institute’s documentary film program since 2013, and in that time has overseen the creation of numerous new programs and resources that support nonfiction filmmakers worldwide. A festival spokesperson said the focus of Jackson’s new role will be shaping the nonprofit institute’s full slate of global public programming throughout the year, including franchise festivals in Hong Kong and London.

The new director said the job “came together over a number of months, in an appropriately rigorous process,” adding, “I’m about as happy as the cat that got the cream.”

Prior to joining the institute, Jackson worked in arts and entertainment for more than 25 years as an award-winning filmmaker. Her resume includes jobs as head of arts and performance at Channel 4 TV in London, where she supported indie voices and innovative storytelling. She executive produced a number of projects for the U.K.’s Film 4 including Mark Cousins’ cinematic odyssey “The Story of Film,” Clio Barnard’s experimental “The Arbor,” Sophie Fiennes’ “The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology” and Bart Layton’s thriller “The Imposter.”

Jackson said “my role, working with a team at the top of their game, will be to ensure that the festival remains as effective, vital and transformational in the years going forward as it has been in the past — and to make sure that we have fun doing it.”

The Sundance Film Festival’s scope and ambition have evolved over Cooper’s tenure, including programmatic innovation and thoughtful global expansion. The 2020 festival received over 15,100 submissions from around the world, featured over 200 new works from a diverse array of voices, welcomed more than 125,000 guests to Utah and reaches millions more who watch festival news and content online.

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