Virtual Sundance Series: A Constellation of Artists in Cyberspace

Sundance 2020 Doni, Chloe Gilligan singer) Rebekah Photo R. Henderson

“In this pandemic year we gather to celebrate a constellation of artists with unique perspectives that express this current moment and who together are saying, we exist. This is who we are. And this is what we see.”

Tabitha Jackson, Sundance Film Festival Director
Three people sitting on a stage with a sign behind that says Sundance Film Festival
Sundance Film Festival 2016 Photo Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Virtual Sundance: Covid-19 Forces Film Festivals Online

The Sundance Film Festival is mostly virtual this year, with the exception of socially distanced satellite sites around the United States (U.S.). Film buffs around the world can experience the essence of Robert Redford’s famed indie festival without the travel. Sundance Film Festival is an industry favorite for a variety of reasons. Emerging filmmakers can attend educational networking events and build authentic relationships. Buyers from different studios attend screenings and late night parties to broker deals.  The relaxed atmosphere is ideal for networking. Artists of all disciplines are drawn to the festival for opportunities, community and connections. 

Two women at the forefront talking intently in a crowded room.
Stacy King, Chief Branding Officer, Macro & Doni Sundance 2020 Photo R. Henderson

A filmmaker who premieres at Sundance Film Festival increases the likelihood of the film’s acquisition. Streaming companies like Hulu, Amazon and Netflix pay incredibly high prices for films at festivals to create buzz and excitement. A high profile distribution deal is a great publicity tool. Yet, a top-tier festival premiere is no guarantee of success for a film. However, attending the Sundance Film Festival is exciting and productive for film lovers and creators in a beautiful mountain setting. But no need to wonder if you need another streaming service to see the most talked-about films of the year. Join Culturs to watch movies at home, together. 

Photo by Jan Böttinger on Unsplash

Virtual Sundance: What Does a Virtual Film Festival Look Like?

Festival Director Tabitha Jackson began planned the hybrid festival early on in the pandemic. Jackson and her team had time to learn from other festivals — and it shows. The official “How to Fest” instruction manual is perfect for planning a trip to Sundance from your couch. Main Street in Park City might be on still be on lock down, but you can meet up at the virtual Festival Village. All programming here is free and open to the public. Although films stream through the Sundance App, the talks and gatherings require a browser.  

Sundance Director Tabitha Jackson. Photo Courtesy of Sundance Institute

There is no way to replicate the in-person networking experience and many people have virtual events fatigue, particularly for those residing in the U.S. The pandemic is out of control. This makes even small gatherings incredibly dangerous. The rise of a new social media app may provide what is needed at this year’s Virtual Sundance online festival.   

Clubhouse: the newest social app. Photo by William Krause on Unsplash

What is Clubhouse?

Culturs has team members who are early adopters of the newest player in the social media game, Clubhouse. The audio-only app is not open to the public yet. It already caused a stir in the tech and entertainment industry. There has been some controversy around reported cases of hate speech and trolling on the app. But positive stories about connection and creativity like “The Lion King on Clubouse” exist, and because Clubhouse is a private beta app, users are shaping and changing it every day.  The founders, Paul Davison and ex-Google employee Rohan Set, are very responsive to beta tester feedback.

Culturs will beta test during Virtual Sundance and you can join us on Clubhouse during the festival from Jan. 28 – Feb. 3. Sign up for the Clubhouse waitlist here. If you know someone on the app, you will eventually pop up and friends can give you access to enter; otherwise, the app is currently only available on iOS and is by invitation from another user only. Third Culture Kids (TCKs), Military B.R.A.T.s, multiracial, multiethnic and and multicultural people are Culturs’ focus on the new platform. The design is very simple and elegant. It’s akin to walking down a street with many bars and restaurants. Feel free to stop in for a quick drink or a long meal, but on Clubhouse the only thing on the menu is conversation. We will post our rooms on the Culturs Twitter account, Culturs Facebook, and Instagram.

Photo Courtesy of Pam Woolford

Feel free to stop in for a quick drink or a long meal, but on Clubhouse the only thing on the menu is conversation.

In the Clubhouse

Pamela Woolford is a U.S. based artist and filmmaker. This year is her first Sundance. Virtual Sundance allowed her to attend precisely because it is online and therefore more accessible and affordable. The Explorer Pass for $25 includes access to all of the Indie Series, New Frontier Theater and Shorts programs is on-demand. Woolford has been enjoying using the Clubhouse app and is impressed with the connections and conversations she has observed.

“I’m anticipating some dynamic discussions about Sundance’s experimental and VR [Virtual Reality] films. That’s my space. As an interdisciplinary artist, I create film installations from my experimental narrative shorts. I’ve won awards and get critical feedback. However, I rarely get the opportunity to have one-on-one discussions with fellow filmmakers. There is so much new stuff that’s happening in that space. That’s exciting to me,” said Woolford.

Shari Frilot is Chief Curator of New Frontier. Frilot spent the past year researching the virtual environments at other festivals in the process of creating Sundance’s virtual program. “The community of creative technologists that’s been coming together around New Frontier can take on everything and anything,” Frilot told Indiewire.

Actor Jessie Williams with Rebekah at Warner Media Lounge Sundance 2020

Nothing replaces the magic of seeing a film premiere in person or the thrill of meeting celebrities on Main St. The power of stories cannot be diminished by the size of the screen or the size of the crowd watching. This year’s festival will be an intimate at-home experience and wherever home is, connections are just a click away. 

Three women smiling in front of stage
Sundance 2020 Doni, Chloe Gilligan singer) Rebekah Photo R. Henderson


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