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The decline of Sundance: from 'independent' festival to requiring a woke loyalty oath from attendees

The promoters of the film festival have come up with a "community agreement" that encourages anonymous complaints against those who deviate from the standards.

Imagen subida el 23 de enero de 2015 por Travis Wise de un cine con el cartel del Festival de Sundance (Travis Wise/ Wikimedia Commons).

Travis Wise / Wikimedia Commons.

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Gary Geipel set off the alarm. The senior associate at the National Institute for Public Policy attempted to virtually attend the Sundance Film Festival and, shocked by what was demanded of him, decided to write an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal.

It was thanks to him that the "community agreement" was discovered. The Sundance Institute has created a document that all attendees, whether in person or online, must sign before they can have the privilege of previewing any of the films participating in Sundance. The Sundance Institute encourages "all community members to follow the golden rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated."

An ambiguous document at Sundance

The organization aims to create a favorable environment for all attendees. The intention is good: avoiding "anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-discriminatory practices," but it is badly thought out. Breitbart warned, the limits are not entirely clear and are rather ambiguous. For example, on its website the institution urges that:

Everyone in the Sundance Institute community do their part in creating an environment that is welcoming, safe, and inspiring to all by committing to being:
  • Inclusive and respectful of people of every race, ethnicity, gender identity/expression, disability, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, age, physical appearance and body size, language spoken, and immigration or economic status by refraining from demeaning, discriminatory, or harassing behavior or speech. Intentional with your words by abstaining from hate speech or actions of any kind, including the abuse of chat function (ex. trolling). Mindful of the boundaries of others by avoiding unwelcome sexual attention, harassment, stalking, and inappropriate physical contact of any kind. Respectful of moderators, artists, and audience members by refraining from sustained disruption of courses or other virtual and live events. Conscious of the power you hold by not engaging in abuse or intimidation including that related to race, gender, position, or wealth. Respectful of the individual expression and intellectual property of others. It also requires that you acknowledge that others may have a similar or the same story idea or concept as yours. Vigilant in the fight against the spread of COVID-19 by abiding by Sundance Institute’s official health and wellness policies, including protocol around face coverings.

Reporting offenders in a simple way

The problem with this "agreement," which can be seen on its web page, lies in the ease with which each person can report whoever they believe to be an offender of these rules. Simply send an email to conduct@sundance.org or fill out a Google form. Then, Sundance Institute's Security and Belonging team "reviewed carefully" every report of a potential breach.

However, these limits, being so poorly explained, left several things unexplained. One of them was even brought up by Geipel in his article in the WSJ:

What if I slipped up and engaged in “intimidation related to wealth,” whatever that means? Someone could squeal using a “name-optional reporting form,” and the complaint would be “taken seriously and reviewed carefully by Sundance Institute’s Safety & Belonging team.”

According to the Community Agreement website, the solution is simple: after the Sundance Institute's Security and Belonging team investigates the case, it could decide on the measures it deems appropriate, which, according to the institution in charge of the Sundance Festival, could include "the exclusion from Sundance Institute programs, platforms, or spaces – including a complete ban on further participation in any Institute program or event."

Geipel decided to send an email asking if he could attend without signing that community agreement. The answer, which was sent anonymously, was a clear no. The only solution is not to attend the Sundance Film Festival. The columnist does not deny the solution but says it saddens him although he realizes it is necessary:

Writing in the past tense about Sundance makes me sad. But more of us—patrons, donors and especially liberal-minded board members of arts organizations—have to learn to echo Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: “No, not through me.”