Sundance faces an uncertain future
The Future. Thanks to the pandemic, the Sundance Film Festivals of 2021 and 2022 were entirely remote — and set back-to-back sales records. But this year’s festival — the first in-person event in years — comes on the heels of a huge correction in streaming, and Sundance may have to pivot to recapture its old magic.
Ups and downs
Vulture covers the roller coaster Sundance has been on since the pandemic started three years ago.
- 2020 set a record for Sundance, with Hulu paying $17.5 million for the rights to stream Palm Springs — the highest price ever fetched by a Sundance film.
- 2021 was even better. CODA became the first Sundance film to win Best Picture at the Oscars. It also nabbed a $25 million price tag from Apple TV+ for exclusive streaming rights.
- But now that recent media and streaming layoffs have cast doubt on the long-term viability of streaming models, those windfalls may be long gone. It doesn’t help that critically acclaimed art-house films like Tár and She Said — like those in Sundance’s wheelhouse — were box-office flops.
- This year’s in-person festival still features a virtual attendance option. Whether the inclusion of the latter weakens the appeal of in-person attendance remains to be seen.
Complicating predictions even further is the possibility of an upcoming writers’ strike.
Less industry money is circulating in 2023 than in recent years, so it seems unlikely that this year’s festival will achieve the same commercial success, all while showcasing innovative films that may be financially risky.
But that poses the question of whether Sundance should even want to do both. Some hope that the market shakeup caused by streaming budget cuts will restore some of the festival’s old magic: the in-person exchange of ideas.