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Sundance’s New Festival Director Eugene Hernandez Unveils First Details of Hybrid Fest; Virtual Viewers Will Have to Be Patient

I’m excited for the upcoming Sundance Film Festival in January, as it’s Eugene Hernandez‘s first year as Festival Director, and he seems ready and eager to lead Sundance through a “challenging moment” in Hollywood, as he called it.

Indeed, there’s no guarantee that the industry’s double strike will even be over by Sundance, which is slated to be a hybrid festival once again that runs from Jan. 18-28 in Park City, Utah. Thankfully, signs suggest that the labor strife should be settled by then, especially with the Emmys being rescheduled for January.

This year marks Sundance’s 40th edition, so it’s an important one for the festival, not just for Hernandez. There will be more than 90 features and 60 shorts in the lineup, and the festival itself will start a bit earlier in the day this year, with screenings starting around Noon rather than in the evening.

Things typically die down in Park City around halfway through the fest, but Hernandez plans to combat that mass exodus of industry types by restarting the party halfway through with the help of Sundance alums from past years.

“The midpoint [is] when we will be welcoming back Festival alumni from across our four decades — along with the next generation of artists — to join us on the Mountain to take in our special events, see this year’s films and connect and reunite with one another,” explained Hernandez in an email to Sundance patrons.

In a new twist this year clearly aimed at encouraging in-person attendance, virtual screenings of the films in the festival’s five Competition sections (including NEXT) won’t be available until Thursday, Jan. 25, while press and industry will be granted access a day earlier. The awards will still take place on Jan. 26, so virtual festgoers will have a very narrow window to watch most movies online.

Despite the ongoing strike, this is actually an exciting time for indie movies right now, as money is being funneled into these productions that could launch a generation of new storytellers. Though that may be an unintended side effect of the strike, it ultimately delivers on the hope that those on the picket lines are fighting for — the chance to break into and leave their mark on this magical, mixed-up business.

Hernandez first attended Sundance back in 1993 and launched Indiewire with the Sundance Institute’s support, so he really cares about the festival and the many artists it cultivates and nurtures. Expect more details about the fest in September. For now, you’ll have to settle for Hernandez’s letter, which can be found below:

Eugene Hernandez
Eugene Hernandez photo courtesy of Sundance Institute

Dear Sundance Community,

Hello from New York! I’ve just returned from Utah, our home state, where we celebrated some of the films from last year’s Festival with free screenings for our local community. Sharing these films with audiences has left me even more energized for next year’s Festival, which will take place January 18–28, 2024.

This is a busy time at Sundance, as we’re laying the foundation for the 2024 Festival — our 40th edition (and my first as Festival Director). This is also a challenging moment as artists fight for a more equitable entertainment industry. We’re more passionate than ever about the importance of celebrating and protecting fiercely independent voices; finding, nurturing, and supporting a diverse roster of art and artists; as well as spotlighting work that can entertain us while it challenges and moves us. As we plan for next year, it has been invigorating and inspiring to reflect on the history of this great Festival and dig in with colleagues to shape a sustainable vision for the future that builds and embraces audiences from all walks of life.

On behalf of our CEO Joana Vicente and the entire Sundance team, I’m proud to invite you to join us for the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Below are a few initial details that we hope will inform your planning.

First Impressions

I know snowy January feels far away, but the Sundance Institute team is already watching films and well into our planning for the upcoming Festival. We’ve been talking a lot about first impressions as we focus on giving each of our invited films and filmmakers the celebratory, unforgettable introduction they deserve.

In-person Utah screenings are a crucial part of this. They’re a first look, a vital opportunity for discovery, and a chance for Sundance’s many audiences — moviegoers, industry, press, curators, journalists, partners, volunteers, other artists, and our alumni — to share those memorable moments on the mountain.

In-person and Online

The 2024 Sundance Film Festival will kick off with premiere screenings of each film through Tuesday the 23rd, with multiple screenings of each film in Park City and Salt Lake City. This year, we’re getting started a little earlier, screenings will begin around noon on January 18. So if you’re coming from out of state, consider traveling on Wednesday so you don’t miss any of our opening day.

We’re prioritizing a festive and formative in-person Festival in Park City and Salt Lake City all the way through the closing weekend. With the addition of special programming and more opportunities to see all of the films in both cities during the second half of the Festival, we hope you’ll join us for more days of Sundance 2024. Or, if your schedule and resources are limited, plan to dig in at the midpoint to get a taste of everything we’re planning through the Festival’s final weekend. This is a great time for new artists to join us. The midpoint is also when we will be welcoming back Festival alumni from across our four decades — along with the next generation of artists — to join us on the Mountain to take in our special events, see this year’s films and connect and reunite with one another.

Beginning on Thursday, January 25, we will also launch at-home screenings of the films in our five Competition sections (including NEXT). Films invited to our other sections can also opt-in to screen online during this limited sneak preview window. Press and industry will have online access to these competition films and others that opt-in for the professional community beginning one day earlier on January 24.

Program and Venues

The 2024 Sundance Film Festival lineup will again include 90+ feature films and 60+ shorts. As I write to you, Director of Programming Kim Yutani and our team are already selecting Sundance’s slate. Our early submissions deadline is coming up and late deadlines are in September, so for all the filmmakers out there: It’s not too late!

This year’s venues will be familiar to regular attendees and become fast favorites for new Sundancers. In-person premieres will take place in Park City at the Eccles Theater, Egyptian Theatre, Holiday Village Cinemas, Library Center Theatre, The Ray Theatre, Redstone Cinemas, and Prospector Square Theatre, with private events at The Park. We’ll also be back in our Filmmaker Lodge on Main Street for conversations and gatherings through the final Friday. In Salt Lake City, films will screen downtown at the Megaplex Theatres at The Gateway, at the Salt Lake Film Society’s Broadway Centre Cinemas, and at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center.

Our Festival Awards will be presented during the day on Friday, January 26. We loved the intimacy that came with holding this artist celebration at The Ray Theatre, and we’re thrilled to be back again this year.

Tickets, Passes, and Housing

We’ll have more to share about our plans on all things tickets and passes in late September. Already counting the days? If you’re not already a member, donor, or partner, please consider becoming a Sundance Institute member to receive early access to ticketing. Now is also the time to start researching and booking your housing, so check out our lodging site for more info and resources.

Press and industry should watch for more details on participating in our landmark 40th edition! In the meantime, our team is lining up opportunities for sponsors, partners, donors, and members. The feedback you shared after the 2023 Festival was truly helpful and is informing so much of our decision-making.

More to Come!

This new role is a true honor and full circle moment for me, having attended the Sundance Film Festival for the first time back in 1993. There I met lifelong friends and colleagues and even launched Indiewire with the Institute’s crucial support.

So much has changed in our field since then. In the midst of yet another moment of evolution, we believe deeply in the vital impact of independent filmmaking, discovery, and the enduring power of festivals as a bridge between audiences and artists.

Thanks for your support of Sundance and the artists we serve. I look forward to sharing more soon, and gathering in January!

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