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DAY ONE: Tradition Broken
by Karen Pecota

Tradition broke at the 2020 Sundance film festival opening press conference. For years, all credentialed press would gather together at mid-day on day-one of the festival at the historic Egyptian Theater (one of the screening festival venues) on Main Street to hear the festival directors, filmmakers and programmers talk about what festival attendees will see and experience through the duration of the festival.

Filmmakers are thrilled to be invited to show off their wares. The programmers are excited and ready to present works they have searched the world over, to be (in their opinion) the best narratives and documentaries currently told on film both in the short and long form. Every year new and creative art appears to transform some aspect within the independent film industry. Time and time again the Sundance film festival deems the perfect platform to showcase the developers and their projects especially within the New Frontier section of the festival.

Except for the past two years, a highlight of the opening press conference was the film festival beginnings storytelling from the founder of the Sundance Institute, Robert Redford. Each time I heard him share of why and how the festival was initiated, I was fascinated how he'd share (and not embellish) an added tidbit of the basic story as if walking down memory lane was not only his happy place but important for us to know. The additive note was usually comical and a delightful personal touch. Redford's master storytelling drew-me-in time and time again to the significance and impact the Institute and the festival has had on so many people in the industry and beyond.

This remarkable journey has deep roots in the film industry with feet that continue to keep walking into a world of discovery and effective storytelling. The impact is global. The influence is not only historical but is honored and celebrated. For those of us press supporting the Sundance Film Festival and Institute annually, we are the lucky ones to get the stories firsthand. As some of the festival traditions fall away, it will be our responsibility to pass along the accuracy of the Sundance story to the generations not so privileged to hear the first-hand accounting.

Disappointed to learn at the last minute that there would be no traditional opening press conference irritated me because I could have spent the day on the slopes with my husband if I had known earlier. Ugh!

To appease a few of us journalists, who did not get the memo of the change, we were invited to a special reception that was billed as a press conference called "diversity" with eat and drink.

I later learned that this was the first of a series of similar events to take place during the festival to create conversations with artists at the festival on the topic of diversity. Asking questions on how one best creates a culture and conversation around an existing festival that is a master promoter on narrative of media, technology, archiving, knowledge, distribution,etc. In connecting with others, how do we keep the conversation alive around art and filmmaking to add more diversity?

The event was sponsored by Netflix and Rotten Tomatoes and hosted by Karim Ahmal and Spencer Alcorn. The featured guests were Jacqueline Coley from Rotten Tomatoes who interviewed filmmaker, Janicza Bravo with ZOLA. They talked about the storyline of ZOLA, the making of the film and how this narrative has allowed her privilege to be taken seriously as a black female filmmaker. A remarkable journey. In the conversation there were stats given of the festival films featuring black protagonists and supportive industry people like Brad Pitt and his production company Plan B to give more diverse filmmakers a seat at the table and their voice to be heard.

Half-way through the session a lady sat next to me, who later I found out, she is a member of the Sundance Institute Board who represents a large supporting foundation of the Institute. She was in attendance to participate in as many events/films as possible, wearing her board-member-hat, in order to give feedback at a later date on her impressions and comments on what aspects she witnessed that were in support of the Sundance Institute mission and its future goals.

If the festival's opening press conference tradition has to be broken, then the development to address diversity within the confines of the festival is positive and possibly the beginning of a new tradition--to spark new discoveries in the art of storytelling.