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2021 Film Festival Alliance, Day Three: Sundance Film Festival’s Gina Duncan on Staying Fluid in Covid Times

(The annual Film Festival Alliance gathering usually takes place in Midway, Ut. pre-Sundance. However, this year’s edition is all virtual and Melanie Addington, HtN contributor/Executive Director of the Oxford Film Festival is in attendance. She brings us this report…)

Although new to being the Producing Director of Sundance Film Festival, Gina Duncan has a wealth of knowledge from her past roles in arthouse and festival work which she shared on day 3 of FIlmEx, the Film Festival Alliance’s virtual conference.

While we focus on big changes, big traumas, big issues, Duncan notes that change, being an essential part of the industry, is not something that has to be big at all times.

“Sometimes change doesn’t have to be a big strategic plan, just an idea,” Duncan said.

While Duncan appreciates the pivots being made and technology to keep us connected, not being in the same space as an audience is hard.

“I can’t see this audience…It is hard to program virtually. It’s not the same,” Duncan said. “I want to be in that space with them.”

A sentiment echoed throughout day 3’s panels. Staying connected and finding more about our humanity was touched upon repeatedly throughout the day.

“In terms of the future, I do feel hopeful because that will never go away,” Duncan said. “That is a part of who we are as humans. Being together and creating a safe space for folks to come together and to share in film and art. It may look different and I am completely fine with that as we needed the change.”

Echoing discussions held over the past few years at festivals, conferences, and talks in the industry, pre-pandemic, change was needed in how the independent film industry works. What the answers are though, the over 700 registrants grappled with so far this week.

“Pre-pandemic we needed to change, and this is giving us that opportunity,” Duncan said. “This is the opportunity to build a new foundation.”

Without sharing specifics, Duncan said post-festival she will look to see how to better collaborate, how to help the future of the industry.

Sean Weiner (top) and Gina Duncan

“It can’t be built on the same foundation we were on before,” Duncan said. “We are looking internally to see where our issues are, where we need to strengthen, and where we need to pivot away from.

But for so many institutions who hold on to this is how we got here – because we did x, y, z – what got you to here is not what is going to get you to the next bit.”

She shared she is excited about the new Sundance team and what the pivot means for the larger institutions and if they need to make more space and leverage resources and their power to support the new spaces and programmers.

“We have to be thinking differently about how we do this work and why we do this work,” Duncan said.

She called upon the festival and art-house organizers to think differently about the work, find new spaces and ways to collaborate.

“I see a lack of organizing but there are seeds (like FFA), that are being planted,” Duncan said. “But there is no return. There is no going back to the way we were before.”

This transitional time is allowing exhibitors and festivals to consider the values of their organization and be more mindful in working.

“Fear makes us say yes all the time and not prioritize ourselves,: Duncan said. “If we move forward together we all have to be strong.”

Other talks included staffing changes, rethinking programming categories, data analysis, and reframing what virtual cinema is into better affiliate marketing strategies. For an industry built on changing, discussions that remain common topics such as grant writing, diversity issues were mixed in with new concerns such as having enough PPE, mental health of theatrical and festival employees and more.

Learn more at

– Melanie Addington (@MelAddington)

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Melanie Addington is the Executive Director of Tallgrass Film Association as of 2021. She has worked in the film festival world since 2006, first as a volunteer, and then eventually becoming the Oxford Film Festival Executive Director in August 2015. She used to be a reporter for the Oxford Eagle (a community newspaper) and then Pizza Magazine Quarterly (a global trade magazine). She still loves pizza. And she still writes for Hammer to Nail and Film Festival Today about her other great love: movies. She is from Southern California originally but lived in the South for 20 years. She now resides in Wichita, KS, and has one son.

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