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Sundance Film Festival goes virtual over Covid fears

All planned in-person elements in Park City and Salt Lake City will move online
Sundance Film Festival goes virtual over Covid fears

The Sundance Film Festival, set to open on January 20, has had to amend its plans to stage a hybrid edition and instead made the "difficult decision" to go fully virtual. The decision is in response to the Omicron-driven surge in Covid cases that is hitting events around the world. All planned in-person elements in Park City and Salt Lake City will move online, with schedules being adjusted to take account of the change.

A joint statement from Sundance Institute CEO Joana Vicente and Festival Director Tabitha Jackson said:"This was a difficult decision to make. As a nonprofit, our Sundance spirit is in making something work against the odds. But with case numbers forecasted to peak in our host community the week of the festival we cannot knowingly put our staff and community at risk. The undue stress to Summit County’s health services and our more than 1,500 staff and volunteers would be irresponsible in this climate. It has  become increasingly clear over the last few days that this is the right decision to make for the care and well-being of all of our community.

"The Festival will begin Thursday, January 20, 2022 as planned. Our eleven days of online programming will proceed, with screening schedule adjustments to account for an online only schedule. Our seven satellite partners will host screenings for their local communities  from January 28-30," they added.

Several Arab films are set to screen as part of the festival. Most prominent in the World Cinema Documentary competition section is Rita Baghdadi’s feature documentary Sirens, which follows Slave to Sirens, the first and only all-woman thrash metal band in the Middle East. According to the synopsis, “amid a backdrop of political unrest and the heartbreaking unraveling of Beirut, five bandmates form a beacon of expression, resistance, and independence”.

Director Rita Baghdadi follows founders and guitarists Lilas Mayassi and Shery Bechara as they are joined by vocalist Maya Khairallah, bassist Alma Doumani, and drummer Tatyana Boughaba, and their grit is tested as they grapple with the complexities of friendship, sexuality, and the destruction around them. Sirens is Rita Baghdadi’s third documentary feature, acting as director, producer, and cinematographer.

In addition, Image Nation Abu Dhabi’s psychological thriller Watcher is set to have its world premiere at Sundance, directed by writer/director Chloe Okuno, the film stars Maika Monroe (It Follows), Karl Glusman (Nocturnal Animals) and Burn Gorman (Enola Holmes). The film, which will compete in the US dramatic competition at the festival, is a co-production between the Academy Award-winning Image Nation Abu Dhabi and Spooky Pictures.

Also screening in the World Cinema Documentary section is Director Alon Schwarz’s Tantura (Israel) as he revisits former Israeli soldiers of the Alexandroni Brigade as well as Palestinian residents in an effort to re-examine what happened in the village of Tantura where a large-scale massacre allegedly occurred  in 1948 when hundreds of Palestinian villages were depopulated in the aftermath of war.

Also of interest is US documentary Jihad Rehab from director Meg Smaker – which includes as a co-producer, ‘Anonymous – Saudi Arabia’ – which follows the journeys of three men as they are released from Guantanamo Bay and enter into the world’s first rehabilitation centre for terrorists. Shot over three years, the film follows these men through a yearlong deradicalisation programme and their subsequent release back into society after nearly two decades in detention.

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