Sundance Film Festival Makes 'Difficult Decision' to Cancel in-Person Event, Go Virtual

A surge in COVID-19 cases forced the Sundance Film Festival to cancel its in-person events and move completely online for the second year in a row.

Organizers said on Wednesday they decided to cancel the in-person portion for the Sundance Film Festival after COVID-19 cases are expected to peak in Park City, Utah the week of the festival.

"This was a difficult decision to make," they said in a statement.

The festival was set to begin in two weeks and this year was going to take place both in-person and online, however, organizers decided in-person screenings weren't worth putting people in danger.

In the statement, the festival said they couldn't knowingly put their staff members and the surrounding community at risk for COVID-19 by hosting the event in person.

"The undue stress to Summit County's health services and our more than 1,500 staff and volunteers would be irresponsible in this climate," the statement said.

The festival previously announced at the end of December that people who wanted to attend in-person needed to have their booster shots after the Omicron variant was drastically increasing COVID-19 cases nationwide.

The Sundance festival is set to run from January 20-30 and will be showing 82-feature length films.

Sundance Film Festival Moves Virtual
The Sundance Film Festival is cancelling its in-person festival and reverting to an entirely virtual edition due to the current coronavirus surge. The marquee of the Egyptian Theatre appears during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah on January 28, 2020. Arthur Mola/Invision/AP Photo

"As a nonprofit, our Sundance spirit is in making something work against the odds," they said in a statement.

The festival had been planned as a hybrid, with screenings both in Park City and online. Last year's Sundance was also held virtually because of the pandemic.

The cancellation of an in-person Sundance is a huge blow to an independent film industry that has struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic. Last year's virtual Sundance, where films like Summer of Soul (or The Revolution Will Not Be Televised) and CODA made a splash, proved that a digital festival can still foster breakout hits. But filmmakers, executives, audiences and journalists had held out hope that Sundance—the premier American film festival and a launchpad for young filmmakers—could again kick off a new movie year with packed premieres in the Utah mountains.

The Sundance Institute, which puts on the festival, held out as long as it could in making the decision. In December they announced audience capacity would be slimmed down and no food or drinks would be allowed in theaters. That was on top of previous protocols that mandated vaccination proof, masking indoors and other requirements.

But with Omicron sending case counts to record highs, organizers ultimately pulled the plug on bringing crowds back to Park City.

"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 11-day festival while overwhelmed communities are already struggling to provide essential services," said the festival.

The 82 feature-length films were selected from more than 3,700 submissions. Kim Yutani, Sundance's director of programming said at the time that "this year's program reflects the unsettling and uncertain times we've been living in for the past year and a half."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.