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World Premieres, Live Q&As, Floating in Outer Space: Highlights from the 2021 Sundance Film Festival

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The Circle Cinema Satellite Screen in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

By Virginia Yapp

In our 40 years as an Institute, we’ve never hosted a Sundance Film Festival quite like 2021’s. And that’s thanks in large part to you, our adventurous audiences from all 50 states and 120 countries, who joined us (and our friends at Satellite Screens across the U.S.) for seven straight days of independent storytelling in a reimagined format. Now that we’ve finally gotten caught up on our sleep (and then some), we’ve prepared a quick look back at the premieres, the incredible conversations, this year’s interstellar New Frontier platform—the list goes on.

Note that we’ve saved most of the week’s talks for you on our YouTube channel so you can catch up on anything you might have missed whenever you want. Our merch store is also still open, should you find yourself itching to fully immerse yourself in reliving the memories. To stay involved with year-round, you can subscribe to our email list; follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter; join our free online learning community, Sundance Co//ab; and consider becoming a Member of the nonprofit Sundance Institute, which helps support independent storytelling across a wide range of creative disciplines.

Without further ado, here’s a day-by-day replay of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.


DAY ONE

Day One at the reimagined 2021 Sundance Film Festival commenced with a live opening celebration featuring Tabitha Jackson (in her first year in the Festival director’s seat), founder Robert Redford, and a few other familiar faces from the Sundance family. From there, the virtual world premieres commenced—among them, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s Summer Of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised), Prano Bailey-Pond’s Censor, Sian Heder’s CODA, Baz Poonpiriya’s One for the Road, Nanfu Wang’s In the Same Breath, and Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s Flee.

DAY TWO

On Day Two, Tabitha Jackson sat down with Raoul Peck for a conversation on white supremacy, history, creative expression, and his body of work. From there, at Cinema Café, presented by Audible, we heard from filmmakers Shaka King and Questlove, while We also hosted our annual Native Forum Celebration, where we announced this year’s recipient of the Merata Mita Fellowship, named in honor of the late Māori filmmaker. The day’s premieres included Alexis Gambis’s Son of Monarchs, Mariem Pérez Riera’s Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It, and Christopher Makoto Yogi’s I Was a Simple Man.

DAY THREE

As Day Three illustrated, the Sundance Film Festival has always been about so much more than just the films—in fact, the afternoon’s Big Conversation had been nearly 30 years in the making. During “Barbed Wire Kisses Redux,” B. Ruby Rich reassembled the titans who spoke at the 1992 Festival (a watershed year for LGBTQ+ cinema that gave rise to the term “New Queer Cinema”)—and invited a few guests from the next generation. The day’s premieres included Jamila Wignot’s Ailey, Rebecca Hall’s Passing, and Marilyn Agrelo’s Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street. And at Cinema Café, we heard from veritable legends Rita Moreno and Sonia Manzano.

DAY FOUR

On Day Four, we presented the world premiere of Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s My Name Is Pauli Murray, a portrait of the brilliant Black activist, feminist, lawyer, and priest who influenced landmark civil rights legislation. And we also welcomed Robin Wright back to the Festival with her directorial debut, Land (Q&A here!). And at Cinema Café, actors Rebecca Hall and Wright sat down to talk about their directorial debuts.

DAY FIVE

On Day Five, aka Ignite Day, presented by Adobe, we raised a virtual glass to the next generation of independent storytellers. The day’s screenings included exciting directorial debuts like Carey Williams’s R#J, Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr.’s Wild Indian, Amalia Ulman’s El Planeta, as well as world premieres of Philippe Lacôte’s Night of the Kings and Shaka King’s Judas and the Black Messiah (Q&A here!). At Cinema Café, we were joined by actors Emilia Jones (CODA), Patti Harrison (Together Together, Weirdo Night), and Tyson Brown (First Date); and at “Come Together,” a Big Conversation supported by our friends at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, we were treated to an out-of-this-world conversation on the intersection between science and storytelling.

DAYS SIX AND SEVEN

On the penultimate night of the Festival, we celebrated the memory of the late Jamie Redford at the world premiere of his final film, Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir. And later on that evening, comedian and actor Patton Oswalt hosted our annual Awards Night Ceremony, where the year’s top prizes were presented to projects like CODA, Flee, Summer Of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), and Hive, among many others (see the full list of winners here!).


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