The Sundance Film Festival is having a tough go of it lately, but some of the wounds are self-inflicted
The gala went virtual in recent years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Films that traditionally break out at the festival are having a harder time doing the same with the general public.
“Call Jane,” a pro-abortion drama starring Elizabeth Banks, debuted at Sundance last year but flopped in theaters during its Fall 2022 release. “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul” similarly bombed.
The rights to the latter sold for $8.5 million but the film earned just $2.5 million theatrically (the title debuted on Peacock simultaneously).
Last year’s Sundance screening of “Jihad Rehab” sparked a belated Cancel Culture nightmare. The result? The festival apologized for screening a movie, one replete with glowing reviews, no less. That led to the event getting even more strict when it comes to so-called controversial films, as if a film festival isn’t the ideal venue for challenging art.
All of that may pale compared to the latest revelation.
The festival kicks off today, keeping found Robert Redford’s vision of an indie-minded movie experience in mind.
That’s on paper, at least.
The Wall Street Journal reports that anyone interested in watching a Sundance screening online – this year’s event is both in-person and virtual) better pony up more than just a few dollars.
WSJ reporter Gary Geipel says he tried to sign up via Sundance’s online portal recently but ran into a roadblock. He learned virtual attendees must agree to what he dubbed a “loyalty oath” to ensure they embrace the festival’s woke spirit.
The event’s “community agreement” includes several clauses, like virtual attendees must “avoid unwelcome sexual attention, harassment, stalking and inappropriate physical contact of any kind.”
They also must be vigilant against the spread of COVID-19 (is that a soft vaccine mandate?). Geipel also shared how the waiver prevents intimidation tied to race, gender, position or wealth.
Does that mean no mean jokes about the rich and famous? “The Menu” couldn’t attend this year’s event, alas.
The message included a name-optional reporting system to snitch on anyone who defies these rules. Submissions will be taken seriously and reviewed by Sundance’s “Safety and Belonging” team.
Could they have picked a more Orwellian name?
Remember, this is for watching festival films online. That doesn’t impact anyone’s pandemic fears, and it’s unlikely virtual audiences will be able to harass someone from the comfort of their couches.
Those who run afoul of the rules risk a ban from all Sundance-related projects.
What does Redford think of these new rules? The Hollywood icon is 86 and hasn’t availed himself to the public as he had in previous years.
What about actors, screenwriters and directors who take part in the annual gala? Do they know about these new rules? Do they embrace them or understand their totalitarian nature?
The Sundance Film Festival began in 1981 and remains a powerful part of the Hollywood ecosystem. The current festival’s new rules, though, couldn’t be imagined during the festival’s early days.