We Came, We Saw, We Snorkeled: Highlights from the 2020 Sundance Film Festival

Park City, Utah, during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
© Sundance Institute | Photo by Lauren Wester

Virginia Yapp

Our time on the mountain during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival was split between the premieres of 118 features, 74 shorts, 8 episodic works, and 9 special events, not to mention countless parties, panels, and live music. (Oh, and snorkeling around the pool at Festival HQ for Spaced Out, a New Frontier project.)

We also celebrated our longtime Festival director, John Cooper, who closed out his tenure in style with a choreographed “Last Dance” routine (complete with backup dancers) at our Awards Ceremony; we welcomed our new Festival director, Tabitha Jackson, previously director of our Documentary Film Program; and we gathered around a bonfire at dusk to kick off a new decade and imagine a brighter future.

Relive the highlights from the 2020 Festival with us now!

Day 1

Opening night was a big one, complete with the world premiere of Crip Camp, Sundance Institute’s An Artist at the Table benefit presented by IMDbPro, and Taylor Swift’s much-anticipated arrival in Park City (hello, Miss Americana!). Our founder, Robert Redford, kicked off the night with an emotional goodbye to our Festival director, John Cooper.

Day 2

On Day Two, the big premieres just kept on coming! We went road-tripping with Zola, saw democracy in action in Boys State, and stayed up late with The Night House. Earlier on, director Ron Howard kicked off our Cinema Cafe series, presented by Variety, in a chat about his harrowing but ultimately uplifting documentary Rebuilding Paradise.

Day 3

Day Three got off to a bang with the arrival of Hillary Clinton, who was in town for the first screening of Nanette Burstein’s four-part documentary series Hillary. Across town, Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering’s much-anticipated documentary On the Record had its world premiere, and musicians Carrie Brownstein and Annie Clark (St. Vincent) stopped by Cinema Café to talk about The Nowhere Inn, the absurdist meta-film they co-wrote and co-star in.

Day 4

On Day Four, we took a quick road trip to Palm Springs, hunted truffles in Italy, took a dip in the pool at Festival HQ with New Frontier’s Spaced Out, saw The National’s Matt Berninger play at the ASCAP Music Café, and then attended a live taping of the Thirst Aid Kit podcast with actors Daniel Dae Kim (Blast Beat) and Kendrick Sampson (Miss Juneteenth). Plus, legendary women’s rights activist Gloria Steinem arrived for the premiere of Julie Taymor’s The Glorias.

Day 5

On the day that marked the Festival’s halfway point, we hosted the annual Women at Sundance Celebration, where we got to watch Radha “RadhaMUS Prime” Blank perform, and we heard from Eva Longoria, Gloria Steinem, and Hillary Clinton on the future they imagine for women and gender non-conforming artists. We also awarded our Merata Mita Fellowship to filmmaker Leya Hale during our Native Forum Breakfast. Ethan Hawke was on hand for the world premiere of Tesla, the unconventional biopic by Michael Almereyda, and Alison Brie made her screenwriting debut with Horse Girl.

Day 6

On Day Six, we celebrated our short film artists and announced the winners at our Short Film Awards. Jurors Marcus Hu, Sian Clifford, and Cindy Sherman were in the house for the ceremony—see the complete list of winners here. We also stopped by Cinema Café for a conversation on representation in the film industry with actresses Zazie Beetz (Nine Days), Elle Lorraine (Bad Hair), and Taylour Paige (Zola) and hosted nearly 40 community organizations for a packed free screening of Coded Bias in Salt Lake City.

Day 7

On Wednesday, aka Volunteer Appreciation Day, we gave it up for the real stars of the Festival. We’re so thankful for the 2,400 pairs of helping hands that keep things running here in Park City. Also yesterday, Lisa Loeb performed at the BMI Snowball Showcase, while The Bird and the Bee played the ASCAP Music Café, and at the Filmmaker Lodge, we heard creatives speak on the topic “How Can Artists Reshape Politics?”

Day 8

On Day 8, we invited the local community to take part in something extra special—a ritual as old as storytelling itself. Just after dusk, led by drummers from the Ute tribe, we gathered around a bonfire to welcome the start of a new decade and dream of our imagined futures. Falling writer/director/actor Viggo Mortensen and poet Staceyann Chin joined us at our Power of Story event, where we brought to life the voices of rebels, dissenters, and visionaries past and present; ZZ Ward performed at the ASCAP Music Café; and Festivalgoers experienced Anti-Gone, a groundbreaking New Frontier piece that’s part theatre, part videogame.

Day 9

After the world premiere of Max Richter’s Sleep, influential composer Max Richter performed a live 90-minute version of his eight-hour opus. At the Filmmaker Lodge, Nicole Newnham, Jim LeBrecht, and Michelle Miles joined us for “The New Aesthetics of Disability” panel, and Steven Dayvid McKellar of Civil Twilight performed at the ASCAP Music Café.

Day 10

At our Awards Ceremony, Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari took home the U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic and the Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic presented by Acura. Jesse Moss and Amanda McBain won the U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary for Boys State, while Radha Blank received our Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic for The 40-Year-Old Version. On the international front, Massoud Bahkshi secured the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic for Yalda, A Night for Forgiveness. And Hubert Sauper obtained the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary with Epicentro. See the full list of award winners.

P.S.: A few of the 2020 Festival’s selections will hit theaters this month. See where to find them here.

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