Epidemiologist Jeffrey Shaman expects to see anywhere between three million and eight million new cases during the worst week of the Omicron wave currently tearing through the U.S. That week will likely hit right around January 20, the opening day of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Yesterday, festival organizers announced the cancellation of in-person events scheduled to take place in Park City, Utah, adding that “we do not believe it is safe nor feasible to gather thousands of artists, audiences, employees, volunteers, and partners from around the world, for an eleven-day festival while overwhelmed communities are already struggling to provide essential services. This was a difficult decision to make. 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 announcement was immediately met with an emotionally volatile mix of disappointment and understanding. The news “sucks,” tweeted New York Film Festival director Eugene Hernandez, “but it was the right move.” Filmmaker Braden King, whose Here (2011) and The Evening Hour (2020) premiered at Sundance, tweeted: “My heart goes out to the programmers, staff, and filmmakers. What a heartbreak. Thankful that we’ll still get to enjoy all the films. Onward, as always.”
The full program of eighty-two features and fifteen multimedia, VR, and emerging tech New Frontier projects will go online, and as Nicole Sperling points out in the New York Times, last year’s virtual event “was deemed a success considering the circumstances and generated one of the highest sales in the festival’s history when Apple paid $25 million for the film CODA.”
Two weeks ago, both Slamdance (January 27 through February 6) and Rotterdam (January 26 through February 6) announced that they will be going virtual this year, and the Grammys and Critics Choice awards have been indefinitely postponed. All eyes now turn to the next major event on the calendar, the Berlinale, whose seventy-second edition is scheduled to run from February 10 through 20. As of this writing, there have been no announced changes to plans for an in-person event. But experts warn that Omicron is only just now beginning to take hold in Germany.
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