Tabitha Jackson named new director of Sundance Film Festival

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Tabitha Jackson

PARK CITY, Utah – The Sundance Film Festival has named Tabitha Jackson its new festival director.

Jackson, who was previously the Sundance Institute’s documentary program director, was announced as the prestigious American film festival’s new leader Saturday night during its awards ceremony, according to the Associated Press.

Previous director John Cooper announced last summer that he would step down following the 2020 edition of Sundance, which wraps today. He will shift into an emeritus director role.

Jackson becomes the first woman, the first black person and the first Brit to lead the annual independent film festival, according to the AP.

“All of these things make up part of my fabric,” Jackson said in an AP interview ahead of the announcement. “I suspect that the symbolism of it, in so far as it is inspiring to others who may feel they have permission to go for these big jobs, is helpful. But I hope the appointment was made on the basis of substance rather than symbolism. But at times like these, in this political climate, it is worth noting.”

With Jackson’s promotion, the top three positions at Sundance are all filled by women, the AP notes.

Keri Putnam is the chief executive and executive director of Sundance Institute, the nonprofit organization founded in 1981 by Robert Redford that puts on the festival. Since 2018, Kim Yutani has been the festival’s programming director.

“It’s powerful and also about time,” Jackson told the AP.

Putnam, who oversaw the search process along with a selection committee, told the AP that the festival received 700 applications and considered several outside candidates before choosing Jackson for her close connection to independent artists.

“From my perspective, putting Tabitha and Kim at the helm is the future,” Putnam told the AP. “And I’m really excited for where they go.”

Jackson and the rest of the festival’s leadership team will be tasked with helming Sundance into a new chapter, as Redford, the face and founder of Sundance, steps back. Redford, 83, is mostly retired and this year scratched the tradition of his opening-day press conference.

“In an interview I had with Robert Redford, I asked him what he was looking for in the next festival director,” Jackson told the AP. “He said a commitment to independence and an embrace of change. I think that is an incredibly powerful filter for deciding how we take the festival forward into the next chapter. They happen to be the kind of eternal verities of Sundance, anyway.”



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