Sundance is virtual! What would David Lynch say?

The fringe, old school, and original Sundance Independent Film Festival has taken place in the snow covered mountains of Park City, Utah since 1981. But, in the unprecedented times that are 2021, and for the first time in 30 years, the location has changed; Sundance’s new venue is the World Wide Web.

Yes, even Sundance is going viral due of the ramifications of the coronavirus.

A film festival being viewed on a cell phone? One can’t help but think of the choice words of filmmaker David Lynch (whose projects Lost Highway and Showtime’s Twin Peaks have premiered at Sundance) from a clip of a special edition release of his 2006 film, Inland Empire, in which the director gets very heated about people watching films on their phones.

“If you’re playing the movie on a telephone, you will never in a trillion years experience the film. You’ll think you have experienced it, but you’ll be cheated. It’s such a sadness, that you think you’ve seen a film, on your f**king telephone. Get real,”  he says, barely restraining his rage.

Well folks, to Sundance director Mr. Lynch’s dismay, in  2021 we will all be watching film premieres from our cellphones, screens, etc., a pivot that took over home screens in 2020.

Even the film festival that was conceived to go against the grain of the mainstream is utilizing the very small virtual screen to host the premieres of over one hundred projects this year at a new kind of Sundance Film Festival. 

This year’s edition of Sundance’s online platform features seven days of premieres, events, artist talks, and cutting-edge XR exhibitions. The line-up includes 72 feature films from 29 countries. Most are world premieres, many are their directors’ feature-length debuts, and half are directed by women or non-binary individuals. 

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Features will be streamed during selected blocks of time and can only be viewed then.  Most features have two screenings scheduled, along with Q&As with the filmmakers, for which tickets may be purchased. And apparently virtual screenings can sell out just like real ones.

The short film programs will be accessible throughout the festival, which both categories culminate in an awards ceremony that will be streamed live on Tuesday, February 2 beginning at 8 p.m. ET/6 p.m. MT. The winning films will be available to watch on demand the following day.

An online festival is a bittersweet pivot, evoking both nostalgia for real life sensory experiences and respect for the ability to overcome the limitations of these times, and still create community in the film world- even if online.

Robert Redford

It was Mr. Sundance himself, Robert Redford, who bought the land now known as Sundance in 1968 (where the festival has been held for three decades) with the intention that, “Sundance is an arts community, a recreational community, a community of people who appreciate the beauty of nature and feel the responsibility to preserve it.” 

Redford envisioned the careful growth of a community committed to the balance and conservation of art and nature. Community has always been at the heart of Sundance and in these restrictive times, the online world is the force allowing the community of Sundance (and of human connection at large)  to persevere. 

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To attend the Sundance Film Festival in 2021, no need to bundle up in North Face gear and wait  in long, crowded lines in the winter wonderland, ice-cold snow of  Park City- just log in here. On your phone.

Wonder what David Lynch would say to that?

Megan Penn is a Los Angeles based, New York born actress and writer. Megan has a passion for stories in which women are in the drivers seat, along with a bad case of retrophilia.