The Sundance Film Festival has scrapped its plans for an in-person gathering for 2022, and will press on as an exclusively virtual event.
After a protracted nail-biter, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has proven too overwhelming for a planned physical return to Sundance’s luxurious setting in Park City, Utah. It was scheduled to take place from January 20-30, and offer a virtual component for those who could not attend in person.
“Despite the most ambitious protocols, the Omicron variant with its unexpectedly high transmissibility rates is pushing the limits of health safety, travel and other infrastructures across the country,” organizers said in a statement. “The festival’s in-person Utah elements will be moving online this year. While we’re disappointed to not provide the full hybrid experience and gather in-person as intended, audiences this year will still experience the magic and energy of our festival.”
The Sundance Institute added how difficult the decision was to make given that “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.”
New films, extended reality (“XR”) programming, artists conversations and more content will all be accessible through virtual portals, they added. Sundance had planned to institute COVID safety measures such as requiring booster shots as well as negative test results, plus banning food and drink at screenings.
Organizers were hopeful that Sundance could proceed in person, given that domestic movie theaters have not yet closed in the wake of the new variant — and in fact, Sony’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home” continues to drive the public to the cineplex in record pandemic numbers.
Sundance, of course, is not just a series of spartan film screenings. Panel discussions, filmmaker dinners, late night after parties and hospitality lounges all draw creative and industry players over the 10-day event. Other notable events recently jettisoned from the calendar include the Grammy Awards, the Palm Springs International Film Festival, the film academy’s annual Governors Awards, and the planned broadcast of the Critics Choice Awards.
Sundance held a virtual edition in 2021, and offered select physical screenings in markets across the U.S.