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Sundance is holding a satellite film festival in Chicago this weekend.

Courtesy of Arthur Mola/Invision/AP File

Chicago film insiders hope local Sundance satellite will forge pipeline to Park City

But Chicago is off the list of candidates to host the big annual Sundance Film Festival, which is shopping new locations.

Sundance. For most moviegoers, the word conjures the ski-town winter film festival, an annual champion of independent film founded by Robert Redford and named after one of his most famous onscreen characters.

In addition to organizing the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, the Sundance Institute also functions as an incubator of independent films, providing expert guidance and funding for projects such as Reservoir Dogs and Requiem for a Dream.

Both Sundance the presenter and Sundance the producer will be on display as a satellite event unspools in Chicago this weekend, the first time a U.S. city has hosted such a one-off. Sundance Institute x Chicago, as organizers are calling it, will screen movies and convene panels for a long weekend from Friday to Sunday, with the hope of connecting and growing the film scene in Chicago — and maybe galvanizing a project or two.

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Four films, each of which had a successful world premiere at the big kahuna festival this past January, have showings at the Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago and at the Davis Theater in Lincoln Square. And a series of panel discussions, master classes and other reel talk about industry topics, featuring some principals from those films, takes place at the Logan Center and the Chicago Cultural Center in the Loop.

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Some showings for Sundance x Chicago will take place at the Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago.

Sun-Times Media

“We’re hoping this three-day event will help elevate and supercharge our community,” said Jonah Zeiger, deputy commissioner of the Chicago Film Office. The idea is to splice together the local filmmaking and filmgoing communities with the Sundance universe. “A film festival, it needs two things: It needs films, filmmakers to make them and it needs audiences,” he said.

On the filmmakers’ side, the industry panels discuss topics such as financing and distribution, and the master classes will delve into using Chicago resources in film production and submitting films to Sundance. The event reads like an effort to lay a movie pipeline from Chicago to Park City. It’s also no coincidence the scheduling dovetails with the Independent Film Exhibition Conference running through June 28 at the Cultural Center, persuading industry people who are already in town to stick around.

“Chicago is legendary as a talent magnet,” Zeiger said. “Creatives come here. They thrive here, but they also struggle to get access to the higher levels of the industry that’s more built out on the coasts. An organization like Sundance is frequently seen as a gateway to the real movers and the shakers, especially in the independent film space.”

Your Monster, starring Melissa Barrera and Tommy Dewey; Photo credit_ Will Stone.jpg

Your Monster starring Melissa Barrera and Tommy Dewey is one of the films that will be playing at Logan Center and the Davis Theatre this weekend.

Courtesy of Will Stone

On the filmgoers’ side, it might feel like a short snack of a festival compared with the smorgasbord at the Chicago International Film Festival in the fall or at the Sundance Film Festival.

When the satellite Chicago event was announced earlier in the year, some observers wondered if it signaled bigger aspirations for Chicago: Was the city auditioning to hold the Sundance Film Festival in the future? After all, the institute had announced it was possibly relocating from Park City starting in 2027.

But Chicago is not on the shortlist of 15 contenders, Zeiger confirmed. The city participated in the first phase of the search but then dropped out.

“Chicago has got so much going on already,” he said. “We don’t need to host the largest film festival in the country. We have 50-plus film festivals, and they’re amazing.”

A Different Man, starring Sebastian Stan. Photo by Matt Infante. Courtesy of A24.jpg

A Different Man, starring Sebastian Stan, will show at both The Davis Theatre and Logan Center for Sundance x Chicago.

Courtesy of Matt Infante/A24

But the fruits of this year’s event — if organizers succeed — might play out at a future Sundance Institute x Chicago. It’s something of a test case to see whether the city and the institute complement each other. Being much larger and easier to fly to than Park City, as well as not already maxed out from ski season, Chicago seems like a good fit for this sort of community-building event.

“We are a big diverse city in the center of the country that’s accessible, and it has a very inclusive working-class culture,” Zeiger said.

Here’s a list of movies you can see this weekend with ticket availability noted as of presstime:

The Sundance x Chicago films

  • The documentary Luther: Never Too Much tells the cradle-to-grave story of the singer Luther Vandross. The Logan Center screenings June 28 and 30 were sold out; tickets remain for the June 29 screening at the Davis Theatre.
  • Sugarcane, a gutting documentary about the wrongs committed against First Nations people at compulsory boarding schools in Canada, won a directing award at Sundance. Both the June 29 Logan Center showing and the June 30 Davis Theatre showing still have tickets.
  • The fiction film A Different Man centers on a character who’s an actor who alters his appearance medically and has to face the consequences. That rather vague summary defers to the spoiler concerns of the filmmakers. Sold out at the Davis Theatre June 29. Some tickets remain at the June 30 Logan Center screening.
  • Your Monster sees a young woman in upheaval returning to her childhood home, where a very real monster lives in her closet. In quirky-indie fashion, the film skates among genres. One reviewer categorized it as a “horror fairytale rom-com.” Tickets available at the Logan Center June 29 and at the Davis Theatre June 30.

If you go: Sundance x Chicago runs June 28 through 30 with most screenings at the Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago and at the Davis Theater in Lincoln Square. Most of the inside-the-industry events, such as panel discussions on the filmmaking business, masterclasses and networking parties, will be held at the Logan Center for the Arts and the Chicago Athletic Association across the weekend.


Graham Meyer is a Chicago arts writer.

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