Sundance 2021

This year’s Sundance Film Festival is open to all.

The 2021 Sundance Film Festival isn’t letting the pandemic thwart its efforts to bring new films and filmmakers into the spotlight. From Jan. 28 through Feb. 3, the minds behind the festival have morphed the delivery system to make it COVID-friendly while maintaining the energy of the festival.

Doing that is a daunting task, but under the new direction of Tabitha Jackson and working with long-time executive director Keri Putnam, the team has, according to the festival’s founder Robert Redford, “…forged a new collective vision: one that honors the spirit and tradition of these invigorating yearly gatherings in Utah, while making room for imaginative new possibilities in a new online format.”

What does that mean, exactly? In many ways, it means more people can “attend” the festival than ever before. Coordinating with independent movie theaters across the country, films will be simultaneously shown at Satellite Screens where individual venues will “create and host their own events, sharing local cultural conversations with broader Festival audiences…”

Additionally, of course, you’ll also be able to stream films directly to your home.

Putnam stated, “Our ambition is for everyone to come together, safely, wherever they may be, and participate in screenings on our platform at the same time.”

And just like past festivals, live Q&A’s will follow the film’s premiere and on-demand screenings are available for a “second screening.”

While the festival is shorter this year, seven days instead of 11, it still will feature 72 full-length films (2020 featured 118) with 46 percent of these directed by one or more women. The films will include, as always, dramas, comedies, documentaries, horror films and more. Of course, there is already buzz about what the next festival darling will be.

I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do hear many critics covering the fest chatting about a select few. “Together Together,” written and directed by Nikole Beckwith and starring Ed Helms and Patti Harrison, is one of those films. It promises to satisfy our current and seemingly endless thirst for comedy.

“At the Ready” is another buzz-worthy film as its topical relevancy brings us back to reality, dissecting a high school law enforcement program, their complex viewpoints of border patrol and how they process and integrate what they know, see and learn.

On a fictional but still dramatic note is the hot ticket “On the Count of Three,” starring Tiffany Haddish, Henry Winkler and Christopher Abbott, about two friends who have a pact to end their lives at the end of the day. With this cast, I’m placing bets that while it sounds rather morbid, there must a few laughs in there as well.

Rhea Perlman has caught many eyes as she finds her way into the spotlight at Sundance with Kate Tsang’s “Marvelous and the Black Hole.” Perlman depicts a “surly children’s party magician” who teams up with a teen who struggles with her dysfunctional family.

With many other “buzz worthy” films at the fest, my list pushes the envelope at a total of more than 20 over these five days including: “Hive” by Blerta Basholli, Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr.’s “Wild Indian,” Zoe Lister-Jones’ “How It Ends,” “Coda,” starring Emilia Jones and Marlee Matlin, “R#J,” a new twist on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp’s “First Date,” which brings awkward thoughts immediately to mind.

With several more on the schedule, Sundance is also providing a way to “interact,” virtually of course, complete with an avatar so that we can still “hang out” on Main St. and catch up with others attending. Who knows, maybe Ed Helms will stop by and chat with us for a bit!

The 2021 Sundance Film Festival will be like no other in its history, but it promises to be a memorable one as well as a more accessible one for anyone wanting to attend. For a complete list of films and how to purchase passes and individual tickets or perhaps see a film at a local theater, go to tickets.festival.sundance.org. Maybe I’ll see you on Main St.!

Film critic

New York native film critic Pamela Powell now resides in Bourbonnais where she has been reviewing big blockbuster films as well as independent gems for the last 10+ years.