Sundance Cancels SoCal Drive-In Screenings Due to COVID-19 Surge (EXCLUSIVE)

By Matt Donnelly

The Sundance Film Festival will not move forward with drive-in movie screenings in Southern California, due to the state’s alarming increase in COVID-19 infections and deaths, Variety has learned exclusively.

Los Angeles-area venues the Rose Bowl Stadium and the Mission Tiki Drive-in were meant to accommodate a large number of show business types who are unable to travel to the festival’s Park City, Utah home this year — but given the staggering rate of infection in California, the festival told filmmakers they cannot move forward.

Sundance director Tabitha Jackson and programming head Kim Yutani reached out to numerous festival participants who were planning to hold screenings at those venues. The pair said that due to the discovery of a more infectious strain of the coronavirus and a lack of ICU capacity in California, the showings were off.

“The safety and well-being of our audiences, community and staff is the most important thing to Sundance Institute and Sundance Film Festival. In consideration of the overall public health situation in the Los Angeles area and the trajectory of the spread of the virus there, the health guidelines, and crisis the hospital systems are facing we will be pivoting our planned drive-in screenings to our online platform,” a festival spokesperson said.

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“When we designed the expression of the 2021 Festival it was with the online platform at the core. We wanted to gather in person where possible and planned to dial elements up and down based on the health situation in our locations at the time of the event. We have built the digital platform so that festivalgoers online can screen work across the entire program and take part in premiere screenings followed by a live online Q&A with the artists and filmmakers,” they added.

On Monday, California reportedly recorded 39,194 new cases.

As America’s premiere independent film festival, Sundance had banked on lower transmission numbers and robust digital and in-person hybrid model to recreate the magic of the Utah gathering. In their notes to creatives, Jackson and Yutani expressed specific regrets that Los Angeles would not be able to share a big-screen experience. Festival films will be available on Sundance’s proprietary streaming platform for ticket holders.

Screenings are still expected in locations like Nashville’s Belcourt Theatre, Houston’s Moonstruck Drive-In, Denver’s Sie FilmCenter, and the Gateway Film Center in Columbus, Ohio.

Films set to screen include feature directorial debuts from Rebecca Hall (“Passing”) and Robin Wright (“Land”), as well as the documentary “Summer of Soul” from Amir “Questlove” Thompson. See the full lineup here.