By Stephanie Ornelas
Digital Gym is ready to deliver a slice of Sundance Film Festival to San Diego.
Almost two years ago, when the California–based independent micro-cinema lost the lease to its location and was forced to close during the pandemic, Moisés Esparza (Exhibitions Manager) was concerned that the cinema wasn’t given a proper send-off. Today, instead of a goodbye, they’re ready to introduce their brand-new home to their community as a 2022 Sundance Film Festival Satellite Screen partner.
“It all aligned itself really nicely,” says Esparza via Zoom. “We’re making up for the closure of the previous location with this amazing grand opening and [we’re] pairing it with the Satellite Screen experience.”
As a single-screen cinema, Esparza noted how it took some time for Digital Gym to cultivate supporters. Caught between two other independent cinemas, he explains, “It took a while for us to carve out our space in the film community here in San Diego. But it felt like we hit our stride in the last couple of years. With the pandemic, so much was paused, but we’re ready to pick up where we left off with this new sense of momentum.”
Uniquely part of two entities — Esparza also manages the San Diego Latino Film Festival — he provides an important perspective when it comes to the cinematic depth of the community.
“The film festival community here is so strong. It really is the cinephile’s dream,” he says excitedly. From the San Diego Asian Film Festival, to the Jewish Film Festival, the G.I. Film Festival and San Diego Film Week, there are so many opportunities here to not just appreciate, but also discover film. We really advocate for independent films made from all over the world, so we’re honored to be the in-person ambassadors for the Sundance Film Festival.”
Being one of the only in-person aspects of the Festival is what really kept the Digital Gym team not just encouraged, but exhilarated.
“The pandemic brings on so much stress, and it’s kind of hard to see a path through all the noise, but producing this event has given our team so much to hang on to,” Esparza says. “It’s giving us a bit of renewed purpose.”
In terms of what’s changed [since Sundance Institute’s announcement of a primarily online festival], the cinema is limiting capacity and will be rethinking some of its reception-type events to promote social distancing and an overall safe environment. But they will still be hosting Q&As, something Esparza stresses is so important to the overall experience.
“The real magic happens during that audience-filmmaker interaction after the film plays,” he says. “You can see it on peoples’ faces. They just want to interact with special guests and talk about the film.”
He continues, “we project so much onto the screen while we’re watching, but we almost, in a way, want the film to talk to us after it’s over, and how we do that is by having these filmmakers, actors, producers, editors, and other special guests provide that context.”
But more importantly, Esparza is excited to bring a small taste of the Sundance Film Festival to the energetic and fast-evolving community that is San Diego.
“I want to create a Sundance experience that’s really accessible. Bringing films to the community, setting up the red carpet, having Q&As with filmmakers — those are the things I’m really looking forward to.”
The pandemic challenges have prompted Esparza to have conversations within his own community. And despite the 2022 Festival’s pivot to online, many agree that the most crucial facet — the core reason we’re all gathered here in the first place — will always be present.
“This just allows us to [examine] the reason why we’re coming together in the first place, which is to watch and support movies,” he says. “All of the supplemental events are amazing and create a vibe, and they’re so valuable, but what are we really here for? To watch films communally. That important aspect of the film is still there.”