Ahead of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, senior programmer Charlie Sextro sat down for a chat with Hindustan Times where he reflected on the festival’s “first ever” hybrid model, the joy of watching films as part of the selection team and some of the trends emerging were discernible in this year’s films.
Charlie began working at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009 as an assistant to the program director and has programmed feature films for the past six years. He also led film, music and comedy programming at Sundance NEXT Fest. Prior to Sundance, Charlie worked in publicity at Entertainment Tonight, marketing at Tartan Films USA, acquisition at Paramount Vantage, and his mother’s picture frame gallery.
• Heading into this year’s Fest in a post-Covid era, what have you learned from creating a hybrid model of the festival?
This will be our very first fully realized hybrid festival. The festival has been almost entirely online for the last 2 years, so all lessons will be learned this year. A big lesson from the past few years is to stagger the start of the in-person festival from the online festival so that all films premiere in Park City on Monday, Jan. 23, and aren’t available to the public online audience until Tuesday, Jan. 1. /24. From an operational standpoint, it helps us to focus our full attention on our in-person premiere screenings and then turn our attention to online screenings instead of all that work happening at once. We’ve also simplified the online experience so that all virtual screenings are available on-demand over a multi-day period.
• What were some of the parameters in the selection process for this year’s Sundance Film Festival?
We don’t set any parameters around our selection process beyond a total number of movie slots and the sections of the festival. Furthermore, we watch all the films, discuss the contenders as a group and at the end of the process we look at where the passion of the programming team lies. Everyone on our team has vastly different tastes and equal say, so we keep talking and talking and talking until we agree on the perfect final program.
• Tell us about some of the joys in your role as part of the Sundance Programming team in the current year?
First and foremost, it’s fun to watch great movies from around the world. Our love of watching, discussing and sharing movies brought us into this work, and discovering new movies and filmmakers will always be the most exciting part of the job.
I also enjoy our programming meetings. During program season, our group meets once a week for many hours to discuss film candidates. We discuss one movie at a time, each programmer shares their insightful thoughts, and it’s a profound experience. We laugh (a lot) and cry (occasionally), and it’s always an enriching conversation.
I’m excited to be showing movies again in Park City and Salt Lake City for the first time in three years. There’s an incredible community that comes together for the festival, from artists to audiences to volunteers and staff, and I can’t wait to be with everyone again.
• Do you think there were current trends in the films submitted for the festival? If so, which were they?
We have two feature films and a short film that highlight the war in Ukraine from different perspectives. Iron Butterflies looks at a precursor to the war by investigating the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine. 20 Days in Mariupol follows journalists and civilians trapped in the middle of a conflict zone. And the short film Liturgy of Anti-tank Obstacles documents sculptors dedicating their artistic skills to the nation’s defense effort.
• Sundance is considered the launching pad for some of the best documentary and non-fiction voices of the year. Is there any pressure that contributes to the selection process for the festival?
The biggest pressure we feel is that there are always so many strong documentaries to consider for relatively few slots, which makes final decisions difficult. We talk a lot as a team to make sure we make the right choices when selecting the final program. Every year we have to pass on a lot of good movies. That’s an unfortunate part of the job. You can’t let outside pressures intrude into the programming process because it’s impossible to make everyone happy. Our audience comes because they believe in the curatorial voice of the festival, so that’s what we follow.
• What are some of your expectations for the Sundance Film Festival in the years to come?
Part of the not-for-profit Sundance Institute, the festival is the driving force behind our shared mission to contribute to the sustainability of independent art and the careers of the artists behind it – as the ecosystem becomes healthier, filmmakers and the public too. We are one of the many platforms on which the organization deploys storytellers to achieve this goal, and in the future we intend to remain a festival that supports diverse voices, in the same way as the Institute’s work throughout the year (with labs, fairs and other artists). development initiatives).
The 2023 festival will take place January 19-29, 2023, in person in Park City, Salt Lake City, and the Sundance Resort, along with a selection of films available online across the country from January 24-29, 2023.