Virtual Sundance Film Festival Experience


Hannah Perry

Instead of welcoming over 100,000 movie lovers to Park City, Utah, the Sundance Film Festival took a different approach this year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

The festival ran virtually from January 28th through February 3rd and brought all the screenings, panels, and live Q&A sessions directly to viewers at home. Out of the record-breaking 500,000 views of the film program, I counted for one of them.  

Before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, I had planned to visit the snowy and cozy home of the Sundance Film Festival with my boyfriend. Although our dreams of spending winter break in Utah were dwindling away as more restrictions were imposed, we were able to purchase an all-day pass for the virtual alternative. The pass allowed access to all the premiere and second screenings of the films on January 30th. With a total of long list of features and short films on our viewing list, January 30th was dedicated solely to experiencing the festival for the first time.  

We started our 14-hour movie marathon at 11 a.m. with Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street. The 107-minute documentary, directed by Marilyn Agrelo, followed the conception of Sesame Street and uncovered some key players that did not get as much mainstream recognition as Jim Henson and Frank Oz. As a huge fan of The Muppets and everything related to them, I was the most excited to watch this film. It did a wonderful job going in depth regarding the requirements to get the show up and running as well as utilizing some fantastic archived behind the scenes footage.  

Next up on the watchlist was Prime Time, a Polish film directed by Jakub Piatek. When thinking about which tickets we wanted to reserve, the plot of Prime Time is what solidified our choice. The film revolved around a young man who hijacked a TV studio and urged for his message to be televised as he controlled two hostages. I was fascinated by the premise and it kept me engaged. However, the intensity was lacking in some of the most important parts due to the lack of a score. Overall, it was not terrible, but I was ready to take a break.  

Watching a handful of shorts served as a way for us to recharge after dedicating a few hours to features. The ones that stood out to me as the most entertaining were Little Miss Fate and The Field Trip. Little Miss Fate, directed by Joder von Rotz, was one of the most bizarre, animated shorts I have ever seen. With a plot revolving around a god-like figure that created a monster after deciding a pair’s fate, it is the perfect mix of something that would air on Adult Swim and Mad. The Field Trip, directed by Meghan O’Hara, Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck, and Mike Attie, was much tamer. It was an interesting and entertaining documentation of a group of fifth graders who were assigned various job, such as being a CEO of a company.  

Around 6 p.m. is when the hunger and fatigue started to kick in for me. A film directed by Jay Rosenblatt titled, When We Were Bullies followed the shorts, but all I could focus on was scarfing down Hot Pockets and resting in bed. I got my second wind around the time The Sparks Brothers documentary started playing. I am glad I took that break because director Edgar Wright decided two and a half hours was the appropriate length to tell the story of musicians Ron and Russell Mael. Admittedly, it was a fun watch and briefly featured commentary from some of my favorite celebrities. 

Finally, the last movie was one we did not initially plan to watch. Directed by Carey Williams, R#J was a new take on the classic story of Romeo and Juliet—this time expressed through smartphones and social media. This film ranks right up there with Little Miss Perfect as being quite odd. R#J did not work for me because although it was trying to be more relatable to how people communicate now, it was incredibly unbelievable. There was a weird mix of dialogue that Incorporated lines from Romeo and Juliet as well as today’s slang. I am not sure who this movie is for, but it is not me.  

Overall, my first Sundance Film Festival experience was positive. I got to watch amazing movies that were unseen by many and had the opportunity to be bought by major streaming companies. The only downside was that since some movies were so good, they were immediately sold out, including the award-winners CODA and Summer of Soul. Despite not watching the best films in the bunch, the festival was enjoyable, and I look forward to attending next year.