Where is Sundance going? All quiet as Atlanta, Savannah vie for festival

The Sundance Film Festival this week is supposed to announce cities that are in the running to bid for the coveted film event but as of Wednesday morning, it has not uttered a word.

Both Atlanta and Savannah have thrown their names into the pot and are waiting to see if they can officially put in a proposal, which would be due next month.

A spokeswoman for Sundance did not return a text or email regarding the search. Sundance has informed cities that they are not allowed to publicly comment about the situation without their clearance or the city would be instantly eliminated from the running.

Christopher Escobar, the executive director of The Atlanta Film Society which runs the Atlanta Film Festival, broke the news to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution of Atlanta’s interest in Sundance on April 26. On Monday, he declined to comment, deferring to the city of Atlanta spokesman Michael Smith, who didn’t respond to multiple texts.

A spokeswoman for the tourism division of the city of Savannah also didn’t respond to a query about Sundance.

The deadline for eligible cities in the running to submit a proposal is June 21.

Escobar in April said that “this could be huge for us. The city of Atlanta is leading this. I’m trying to show them what the possibilities are.”

The annual 11-day Sundance festival, which has grown to be considered the most important film festivals in North America, has always been based out Park City, Utah, a ritzy resort town known for its skiing. But Sundance management has decided to consider other places when the contract is up in 2026. If it chooses to change cities, a long-term contract would mean the new locale would be home to the festival for several years starting in 2027.

The 40th annual version of the festival attracted more than 100,000 attendees this past January and featured 92 feature films, most of them world premieres. Many producers use it as a way to generate buzz in hopes of finding a distributor for theater, on demand and streaming exposure. It’s so valuable that the festival received 4,410 feature film submissions and rejected 98% of them.

While Atlanta has the infrastructure to handle such an event, with Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, vast hotel room inventory and plenty of theater space, it doesn’t exactly capture the vibe of Park City. Savannah is closer in size to Park City and has a thriving arts community as well as a unique Southern gothic feel.

“It would be on par with a huge sporting event,” said Craig Miller, an independent Atlanta filmmaker and producer who is government relations chairman for the local lobbying group the Georgia Production Partnership. “It puts the real seal of approval that Georgia is a legitimate film center if they select Atlanta or Savannah. It’s a fabulous opportunity. People in the industry and government are coming together to make it work. We’re all waiting.”

Robyn Watson, president of the Women in Film & Television Atlanta, said she is “concerned people think a big city may be too much for Sundance, but I think if we can navigate this the right way, the perks are there. If they want to make Sundance bigger, Atlanta would be an ideal place to host it.”