Director of the Sundance Film Festival since early 2020, Tabitha Jackson barely had her feet under the desk when the pandemic struck. It forced a rapid but highly successful pivot to a digital-based festival, opening up a traditionally hard-to-reach event to the wider US public.
Guesting on Time Out’s ‘Your City or Mine?’ podcast, Jackson reveals that the Covid crisis has reshaped Sundance for good. ‘It’s the question that's keeping me awake at night,’ she says. ‘The choice is whether we go back to what we thought was comfortable or to use it as an opportunity to think a different thought, to work out what we want to hold on to and what we want to let go of.
‘[This year’s] festival happened in a different form and we had very different audiences: people who could never imagine coming to Sundance could be part of it. We opened the doors to more diverse audiences, and I don't want to close the door and go back to where we were before.’
Since it was set up by Robert Redford nearly 40 years ago, Sundance has gathered filmmakers, movie-industry types and lovers of independent film in screening rooms and cinemas in the Utah ski resort every January – and Jackson wants to preserve that element too: ‘I do want to go back to sitting in the theatre with other people, hearing the laughter and crying together.’
Safety, stresses Jackson, is another key concern in shaping Sundance 2022. ‘The active questions at the moment are: What is appropriate to ask people to do when they come to the cinema? Do we ask for proof of vaccines or to wear a mask? As we get closer, we’ll know how safety is going to be maintained.’
‘The picture of the festival for me is a convergence, both in place and time,’ says Jackson, ‘so different audiences can come together and be together – or stay in their own area but still be able to participate.’
Head to the ‘Your City or Mine?’ site to listen to the wide-ranging chat between Jackson and Time Out CEO Julio Bruno in full. On the agenda: the vital role film festivals play in influencing social change; the relationship between Netflix and indie cinema; and what it’s like to work for the Sundance Kid (spoiler: pretty great).
Sundance Film Festival happens every January in Utah, and Sundance London is returning physically this year (Jul 29-Aug 1 at Picturehouse Central).
Here’s the line-up of Sundance London movies you can catch at Picturehouse Central this month.
Cannes 2021: our alternative award-winners.