PARK CITY, UTAH - FEBRUARY 01: A view of the venue during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival Awards Night Party at Basin Recreation Field House on February 01, 2020 in Park City, Utah.
(Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)

A Midwestern Sundance Festival? It Could Happen

(INDIANAPOLIS) — One of the world’s most prestigious film festivals is branching out, but Indiana will need a partner if it wants in on the action.

The Sundance Film Festival, the showcase for independent filmmakers founded by Robert Redford, plans to hold sub-festivals in 20 cities next year, at the same time as the main event in Park City, Utah. Festival director Tabitha Jackson describes the satellite festivals as “bespoke” programs with films tailored to the local audience. She says it’s an effort to both respond to the coronavirus pandemic and make Sundance more inclusive.

Craig Prater, president of Indy’s Heartland Film Festival, says it’s a creative approach to the challenges film festivals around the world are facing from the virus. The pandemic has shrunk the supply of new releases, while leaving theaters either closed or at reduced capacity. Indiana theaters were allowed to open at half capacity less than three weeks ago, though those restrictions may be lifted this weekend.

Heartland has already scaled back its plans for this year’s festival in favor of a mostly online schedule. Prater says the only live screenings will be at the Tibbs Drive-In on the south side. He says as theaters have gotten more luxurious, rental costs have become more expensive, and if capacity limits are in place, he says there’d be no way for the festival to turn a profit. And he says he’s skeptical that social distancing can be enforced in a theater under any circumstances.

Prater says Heartland won’t be part of an Indianapolis Sundance. He says the edgy material for which Sundance is known would be an awkward fit with Heartland’s focus on life-affirming movies. Another potential partner, Bloomington’s IU Cinema, says it normally would have made an aggressive pitch for Sundance. But founding director Jon Vickers notes the campus is closing at Thanksgiving as a pandemic precaution, and won’t reopen until February 8, when the festival is already over.

Sundance could look elsewhere for local partners. Louisville is one of 10 cities the festival says it’s already in talks with — the Speed Art Museum there already hosts a program of Sundance shorts. Representatives of Indy’s primary art museum, Newfields, weren’t immediately available for comment.

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