Austin independent cinema partners up with major film festival for exclusive screenings

Austin indie cinema partners up with major film fest for screenings

AFS Cinema 2017
AFS Cinema is partnering with the Sundance Film Festival in 2021. Photo courtesy of Austin Film Society

The show must go on, even in a pandemic. And Austin’s only nonprofit art-house theater has been tapped to keep the reels rolling for one of the world’s most iconic film festivals. 

The Sundance Film Festival has chosen the Austin Film Society as a “satellite screens” partner for the 2021 event, making the AFS Cinema, located in the Linc, one of only a couple dozen locations throughout the country where film lovers can view selections from the 2021 festival in person.

The seven-day festival runs January 28 through February 3, 2021, with programming specifics released in the coming weeks. The satellite-screen designation means AFS Cinema will be able to show Sundance’s feature films for the festival alongside customized local programming. And with AFS’ deep local film connections, it wouldn’t be surprising if some Texas film personalities make an appearance.

“This Sundance Film Festival partnership is a wonderful avenue for AFS to further our mission of supporting and championing filmmakers and film culture here in Texas,” says AFS CEO Rebecca Campbell. “As so many emerging Texas filmmakers have found a home at the Sundance Film Festival over the years, it’s exciting that our film community will have the opportunity to host the festival in 2021. We are planning for safe, socially distant screenings of Sundance Film Festival selections, with more details to be announced in the coming weeks.”
In addition to partnerships with its satellite-screens locations, Sundance will offer a digital platform so audiences can view the festival’s films, artist events, and Q&As at home.

The partnership came about thanks to a history of collaboration between the festival and the local film society. AFS, which has a longstanding relationship with the Sundance Film Festival and shares its mission to support emerging artists, has in previous years recommended AFS-supported filmmakers for Sundance lab programs, provided travel grants to Texas-based artists exhibiting work at the festival, and hosted Sundance’s traveling programs at the AFS Cinema.

“The Sundance Film Festival contacted us when they were considering this new format, and we were intrigued and, of course, excited about the possibility of a deeper collaboration on the festival itself,” says Holly Herrick, AFS head of film and creative media.

AFS Cinema closed earlier this year because of COVID-19 but launched its AFS screening service so viewers could stream the theater’s film lineup at home. The Sundance screenings will mark the cinema’s first in-person events since the theater closed because of the pandemic. Opening the theater after many months of closure is a hard act to follow, but Herrick says AFS plans to implement new safety measures for festival screenings.

“We are planning to screen the films indoors at the AFS Cinema. We are monitoring Austin’s COVID-19 situation closely and are prepared to make changes to our plan should Austin remain at the Stage 4 risk level in January,” she says, noting the cinema’s full safety plan will be posted on the AFS website prior to tickets going on sale. “In addition to the state safety mandates including significantly reduced capacity in theaters, AFS will be implementing increased safety guidelines for these events. Some of these plans include eliminating lobby concessions during the festival, no eating or drinking in the theater so that masks can be worn at all times while indoors, spacing parties at a minimum of 6 feet apart, and thorough cleaning and disinfecting after each audience leaves the theater.”

Though in-person film screenings have their challenges, the partnership is a win-win for both entities; Sundance gets to screen its films and programming to a larger audience than would be possible in person in its usual Utah setting, and AFS Cinema gets people in the seats once again.

“The core of our festival in the form of an online platform and socially distanced cinematic experiences is responsive to the pandemic and gives us the opportunity to reach new audiences, safely, where they are,” says Tabitha Jackson, first-year festival director for Sundance. “And thanks to a constellation of independent cinema communities across the U.S., we are not putting on our festival alone. At the heart of all this is a belief in the power of coming together and the desire to preserve what makes a festival unique: a collaborative spirit, a collective energy, and a celebration of the art, artists, and ideas that leave us changed.”  

Other Texas satellite-screens partners for the 2021 Sundance Film Festival include Dallas’ Aviation Cinemas, showing screenings at Texas Theatre, and the Houston Cinema Arts Society, which will offer screenings at Moonstruck Drive-In and the DeLuxe Theater in Houston.  

Single-day, single-screening, and full-festival tickets and passes will be available beginning January 7.