The Reimagined Sundance Film Festival 2021 Diary

Sundance Diary Day One Thursday, January 28, 2021:

It’s Sundance week, but few if any filmmakers or media pros are trekking to Park City, Utah. This Year’s Sundance Film Festival is all virtual due to the spread of COVID-19. Our smartphones are festival movie screens. Our couches are replacing red carpets. A custom-built platform allows Sundance 2021 attendees to stream premieres similar to how we’ve been watching movies throughout the time of COVID-19. What’s unique is experiencing gathering spots from the Artist Lounge to Main Street. After a year of joining virtual brainstorms featuring just about every online event platform, I’m happy to share that the custom Sundance Festival platform works beautifully. My avatar is having a blast sprinting across the New Frontier hub and looking forward to networking with all the Sundance 2021 virtual attendees. 

Filmmaker Nanfu Wang delivers the year’s most impactful film with COVID-19 doc ‘In the Same Breath.’ Photo by Sundance Institute.

What I’m Watching:

‘In the Same Breath’

With ‘In the Same Breath,’ making its premier at reimagined 2021 Sundance Film Festival, the political story of our lifetimes transforms into the personal journey of a mother and her son caught in the coronavirus outbreak during a New Year’s visit with family near Wuhan China.

Stand-out documentary filmmaker Nanfu Wang (‘One Child Nation’), born in China, captures the emotional toll of Covid-19 by replacing news headlines with intimate stories of personal losses and recoveries.

Many of the film’s political topics are familiar to audiences who’ve been following the COVID-19 news in detail. What’s breathtaking and new are the individual stories Wang and her team of ten-plus cinematographers gather for an emotionally riveting feature from start to finish.

Creator Jesse Eisenberg leads a virtual case study of his audio-first production ‘When You Finish Saving the World’ in the Variety Streaming Room.

What I’m Learning:

‘When You Finish Saving the World’

Creator Jesse Eisenberg joins actor Finn Wolfhard and Rachel Ghiazza. EVP, Head of US Content at Audible, in the Variety Streaming Room for a virtual case study of his audio-first production ‘When You Finish Saving the World.’ Eisenberg pulls the curtain back on the creative benefits and risks of audio-first storytelling that falls between the familiar genres of movies, podcasts, and television. Eisenberg previews how audio-first productions launch future storytelling formats. Eisenberg soon begins production on a movie version of ‘When You Finish Saving the World.’

‘The things that I find that work the best are naturally good stories. Good stories come from creative people when they don’t have boundaries.’ – Rachel Ghiazza. EVP, Head of US Content at Audible, on the creative benefits of audio-first storytelling.

What’s New:

Main Street Brand Houses from longtime festival sponsors, including Chase Sapphire and Dell, replace brick-and-mortar installations with digital platforms streaming panels and presentations from festival artists. You may not be able to pop into a brand house for a coffee, but many sponsors are giving away subscriptions to coffee partners.

What’s the Same:

There are approximately ten festival happenings every hour on the hour, from screenings to talks and masterclasses. Before Coronavirus, in Sundance classic, I would schedule my activities based on location. If I’m Main Street, I may as well stick to Main Street. Opening Weekend gridlock is a bear. In the reimagined Sundance, there are still multiple events competing for your time. However, Virtual You can open multiple screens at once and float between panels.

Behind the Screens:

Sundance Film Festival 2021 launches while I’m in quarantine due to contact with a family member who tested positive for COVID-19. It’s a powerful reminder of the growing Coronavirus challenges outside the virtual festival.

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