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Park the shuttles: 2021 Sundance Film Festival’s online platform set to be virtual reality

By Sarah Harris special To The Standard-Examiner - | Jan 27, 2021
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A still from "Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street" by Marilyn Agrelo, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. The Sundance Film Festival, which will be mostly virtual this year, kicks off Thursday.

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A still from "In the Same Breath," a documentary about the coronavirus pandemic and politics in China.

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A still from the movie, "A Touch of the Master's Hand," premiering at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival in the Short Fiction category.

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Ed Helms and Patti Harrison appear in "Together Together" by Nikole Beckwith, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. 

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A still from "CODA" by Siân Heder, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. 

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A still from "Summer Of Soul (...Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)" by Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

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A still from "My Name is Pauli Murray" by Betsy West and Julie Cohen, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. 

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Camaron Engels and Francesca Noel appear in "R#J" by Carey Williams, an official selection of the NEXT section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. 

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Nick Cassavetes and Nic Cage appear in "Prisoners of the Ghostland" by Sion Sono, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. 

The 2021 Sundance Film Festival is upon us, but no need to don your winter gear.

This year’s festival, scheduled Thursday through Feb. 3, will take place mostly online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Even under these impossible circumstances artists are still finding paths to make bold and vital work in whatever ways they can,” said Tabitha Jackson, the festival’s new director, in a news release. “So Sundance, as a festival of discovery, will bring that work to its first audiences in whatever ways we can.”

Films, talks and other events will be available on the festival website. Movies also will be shown on satellite screens across the nation in conjunction with health and safety guidelines.

“The core of our festival in the form of an online platform and socially distanced cinematic experiences is responsive to the pandemic and gives us the opportunity to reach new audiences, safely, where they are,” Jackson said.

More than 70 feature films will screen online in a schedule of three-hour time slots, with a 15-minute interactive waiting room experience before each premiere and a live Q&A afterward. A second screening two days after each premiere will be offered on demand for 24 hours. Indie series and short films will be available on demand throughout the week.

The festival is set to open Thursday night with world premieres “In the Same Breath,” a documentary about the coronavirus pandemic and politics in China, and “CODA,” which stars Marlee Matlin and follows a child of deaf adults torn between her love of music and her parents.

Also premiering Thursday night is “Summer Of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised),” directed by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson of hip-hop band the Roots. The documentary features unseen footage from the Harlem Cultural Festival, an event celebrating African American music and culture that more than 300,000 people attended in 1969, the same summer as Woodstock.

Several projects center on racial and gender equality, including “My Name is Pauli Murray,” a documentary from “RBG” directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen about a civil rights activist who influenced Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Thurgood Marshall.

Another documentary premiering this year, “Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street,” explores how a group of rebels created one of the most influential television programs in history.

Stars among the lineup include Nicolas Cage in “Prisoners of the Ghostland,” the story of a criminal sent to rescue a woman in a supernatural universe, and Ed Helms in “Together Together,” about the relationship between a single man in his 40s and a young woman hired as his surrogate.

The program also includes “R#J,” a modern retelling of “Romeo and Juliet” through cellphones and social media communication, and “The Touch of the Master’s Hand,” a short film in the U.S. Fiction category about a young missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his pornography addiction.

“The work in this year’s program is groundbreaking, imaginative and formally daring,” said Kim Yutani, the festival’s director of programming, in another news release. “With over half the program made by first-time directors, a sense of discovery remains true to us at Sundance. This year’s festival presents irrefutable evidence that despite the challenges, the independent voice is as strong as ever.”

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