Sundance brings together film lovers and the FilmScene community

FilmScene was one of the 30 satellite theater locations selected to host the Sundance Film Festival. The event ran from Jan. 28 to Feb. 1, some of the films that were shown were Judas and The Black Messiah and Mass.


Sid Peterson

The Sundance Film Festival took place from January 28 to February 3, 2021, consisting primarily of virtual programming and in-person events at independent cinemas across the U.S. In Iowa City, FilmScene served as a partner and Satellite Screen host for film screenings at the Chauncey.

Tatiana Plowman, Arts Reporter

After months of anticipation, the Sundance Film Festival screened at satellite theaters across the nation, including Iowa City’s FilmScene. Beginning on Jan. 28, patrons and movie lovers alike watched new films at safely distanced in-person screenings or through virtual programming.

FilmScene hosted nearly 200 individuals over the course of the four-day festival. Each night after the in-person screenings, the cinema held a virtual lobby over Zoom where film-lovers discussed the films featured that night.

Programming director Rebecca Fons, one of the main FilmScene coordinators with Sundance, said she managed to catch 25 virtual showings during the festival, although in previous years she has seen even more when she attended the festival in person as FilmScene’s representative.

Even so, she said helping the festival come to life in Iowa City excited the team.

“The entire team is on cloud nine,” Fons said. “We saw the event evolve so much since June, and it overall was a very successful event.”

Some University of Iowa student organizations attended the limited in-person screenings FilmScene offered, including the UI Afro House, the Latina/o Graduate Student Association, and the UI Orientation Services Spring Welcome group.

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Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, FilmScene was unable to sell general admission tickets to the public. Instead, they hosted a raffle where patrons could enter to win a number of tickets to attend a specific screening. Each winner was permitted a limited number of guests to attend with them.

Concessions were sold in advance, and Fons said patrons followed FilmScene’s strict COVID-19 guidelines extremely well.

“That truly helped the festival operate smoothly at our location,” she said.

FilmScene also hosted a virtual roundtable discussion with UI cinematic art students Auden Lincoln-Vogel, Julianna Villarosa and Philip Rabalais, as well as Sundance Feature Filmmakers Sian Heder and Christopher Makoto Yogi. They discussed the process of submitting a film to be featured at Sundance, film industry struggles and tribulations, as well as the future of the art form.

“Every discussion offering we had allowed for us to further connect with our community,” Fons said. “We talked about a lot of important themes that occurred within these films, such as how the world has changed due to COVID-19.”

Julianna Villarosa is a third year MFA Film & Video Production student who participated in the panel. She was contacted by a representative for Bijou Film Board to participate in the discussion.

“Speaking on the panel was a great experience, especially getting to connect with more filmmakers,” Villarosa said.

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Villarosa virtually attended the festival, catching many different films of various genres. She has participated in many film festivals. One of her films was selected for the experimental category at Slamdance Film Festival.

“I think the entire virtual process that [Sundance] has taken is very interesting and definitely more accessible,” Villarosa said. “It usually costs a ton of money to go to Park City [where Sundance is usually held], and this is a great way of outreach for other film lovers.”

In the future, Fons said they hope to showcase many of the Sundance Film Festival selected films in theaters when it is safe to operate again. They also hope to continue being a satellite screen location for other film festivals that follow in Sundance’s footsteps.

“The entire process helped us grow tremendously and connect with so many amazing people, truly unforgettable,” Fons said.