Sundance Institute CEO Joana Vicente reflects on 2024 Film Festival and its future

'I believe in the strength of Sundance’s relationship with Park City and its ability to provide space for all of us, to share the power of independent storytelling, and to continue Robert Redford’s legacy,' Vicente said.

Joana Vicente, CEO of the Sundance Institute, spoke with TownLift today about the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, and the event’s future.

TownLift: Congratulations to your team on a successful week in Utah. Are there any personal highlights for you from the 2024 Sundance Film Festival?

Vicente: “A few things stand out from this Festival. I started off at the Sundance Resort at the Screenwriters Lab and was able to see the start of where so many of the projects begin that later may end up at the Festival. That grounds me to why we do what we do. My favorite moments though are meeting all the filmmakers who come here to share their work with this community and being backstage and watching the film teams take the stage after the film has met its audience and do a Q&A with the audience. This connection is what Sundance is all about. I also loved the 40th Edition Community Celebration that the city hosted for us at South End City Park. It was generous of the city to do and special to have Larry Cesspooch, who is a Ute Filmmaker, Spiritual Leader, and involved in our artist programs, there and have the Red Spirit Singers and the community take part in a round dance.”

TownLift: Are there any audience and attendee statistics from this year’s festival that you’re proud about?

Vicente: “We are still going over the exact figures, but we are already seeing that audiences were at pre-pandemic levels with almost all of the screenings at capacity. It was an electric environment and we had to continue to add screenings of films. We’ll be releasing our full-economic study in the coming months, while ticketing is already showing that people were excited about being here for the movies and the experience and one of the things I am most proud of is how this community showed up day after day, night after night, to discover these films and filmmakers who came here from around the world to share their stories.”

TownLift: In years past, it’s been difficult to host in person screenings. Are there any insights that you’ve heard first hand from actors, directors, and producers on the ability to see their work in front of an audience?

Vicente: “We started with digital in 2021 and continued in 2022 with the Omnicron surge, and we felt like what digital did was it really made the festival accessible to so many people who weren’t able to come to Sundance.  This gave everyone not in Park City or Utah a Festival as well. So many people were experiencing the Festival for the first time and we saw it as an opportunity to develop new audiences for independent film.”

“This year we prioritized in-person while continuing to evolve the online offering and maintain opportunities for audiences around the country to join in from where they are.  Ideally, we want people to be here, but we know that is not possible for all who want to be a part of Sundance.”

“We want people to be together in a screening room, together in person. We want the filmmakers to have that incredible experience of seeing an audience seeing their film for the first time, screening to packed houses. All while feeling that amazing audience response that we have with Sundance audiences. That energy, the collective emotion.”

“We’ve seen powerful audience responses to many films this year, and whether that is uncomfortable or exuberant, we embrace the opportunity to have that interaction between the artist and the audience. There is nothing else like it.”

TownLift: With so many LGBQT+ stories this festival, how are you thinking about the upcoming legislation around trans rights on Sundance?

Vicente: “We unequivocally stand behind Sundance’s core and immutable value — that everyone who is a part of our global community should be able to participate comfortably in every facet of our programming, and that includes making sure that all feel their needs are met in our venues.”

“We are champions for diverse voices within our industry, and many of the films at Sundance show the importance of fostering an inclusive environment. Sundance artists change hearts and minds, sparking new levels of empathy and understanding that lead to social change.”

“We believe in the power and possibility that comes along with lifting up the voices of transgender artists and have sought out, supported, and awarded their artistic visions.”

“We are continuing to evaluate options as we look ahead and work to make sure Sundance is safe, welcoming, and inclusive to all our artists, staff, volunteers, and audiences – those who travel to Utah and those who reside here throughout the year. We will continue to express our concerns to elected officials and commit to guaranteeing a safe and secure place for Sundancers in years ahead.”


TownLift: What’s the future of Sundance in Utah and Park City?

“I believe in the strength of Sundance’s relationship with Park City and its ability to provide space for all of us, to share the power of independent storytelling, and to continue Robert Redford’s legacy. Park City is a magical place for the Festival. I felt that deeply the last week and a half during the Festival. People talking about films up and down Main Street, on the shuttles, in life. The community coming out and embracing the films and the Festival. The Festival could not happen without the city’s partnership and the strong collaboration and we are so appreciative of that work year after year. Like for every live event, there are some challenges to be addressed in producing the Festival, from costs to community accessibility and ensuring that we can remain inclusive to all audiences.”

TownLift: What’s the first thing that you’re going to do this week with the festival being over? (How do you unwind)

Vicente: “I am heading to Portugal to visit family and spend some quality time with them. The full team has been working so hard for so many months to mount this event so we close the office for a few days this week and that will allow all of us some needed R&R.”

Eugene Hernandez, director of the Sundance Film Festival and head of public programming, and Joana Vicente, Sundance Institute CEO. Photo: Sundance Institute

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