Sundance, Berlin fear Omicron but resist virtual (so far) – The Hollywood Reporter


On December 5, the cast of Netflix Do not seek converged on the Jazz at Lincoln Center stage for the film’s glitzy world premiere. With stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Streep, director Adam McKay recalled the night of March 11, 2020, when everything changed. “We were in Boston [in preproduction], and I’ll never forget that night because there was an NBA game with the Jazz, and they just stopped the game, and from that point on, our lives were never the same ” McKay said from the scene.

Almost two years later, Hollywood is still leading a surreal life, this time bracing for the latest wave of COVID-19: omicron. Four days earlier, Netflix canceled the premiere’s afterparty “out of care for the health and safety of our guests” and quietly canceled the entire awards season international press tour that would have seen DiCaprio and pregnant Lawrence promote. filming it everywhere from London to Paris.

While Do not seek marks the biggest film to tweak its plans to date, and it’s not the only one, with similar moves expected in the coming weeks. In fact, the global spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus has worried the film industry for the entire winter season. As of this writing, the new variant of COVID-19 has been found in at least 45 countries around the world, with a spike in new cases reported in the United States and much of Europe over the years. days, raising concerns about the impact of omicron to come. Film festivals and markets, primarily Sundance (which runs January 20-30) and the Berlin Film Festival (February 10-20) and its accompanying European Film Market (February 10-17).

Traditionally, Sundance and Berlin mark the start of the year for the film industry. The two went online only in 2021, a first for both festivals. Executives hoped Sundance-Berlin 2022 would mark a return to normal.

“[Dec. 6] was the very first day of early registration for the European Film Market, and we planned to register right away, [but] we’ve changed all of our plans until we know more about this new omicron thing, ”says Miyuki Takamatsu, of Free Stone Productions, a boutique film sales company that manages titles from Japanese authors such as Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Naomi Kawase. “But now we’re going to wait a bit and see how things develop as more is learned about the new variant.”

Likewise, a Sundance regular dealing with several films featuring top talent says she has booked offices and accommodation in Park City but is waiting to confirm flights for fear the festival will be cut back. “People are definitely starting to panic about omicron,” she says. But Sundance Festival Director Tabitha Jackson is determined to move forward as planned – in person with virtual components – and has started doing her press interviews to discuss the list of films that will be released next. December 9 and 10.

“We see Sundance as a crucial festival to attend in person, and we are committed to attending 100% even if we have to wear hazmat suits, which I’m sure won’t be necessary, ”said Josh Braun of Submarine, who is based in the US and remains on the fence about Berlin.

With the increase in cases involving the new variant of the coronavirus in Europe – and Germany has been among the hardest hit – producers, sales companies and international buyers are rethinking their plans. A handful of sales companies have canceled hotel reservations for Berlin and are playing the wait and see before committing.

“We are planning to attend the Berlinale in person so really hope things don’t get worse,” said Yunjeong Kim, director of international affairs at Korean sales agent Finecut, “[but] if there are stricter travel restrictions or worsening cases, we may have to change our plans, unfortunately. “

For its part, the Berlinale is unwavering not to become virtual again. The latest in-person incarnation in 2020 drew stars such as Johnny Depp, Elle Fanning and Hillary Clinton, who was promoting their titular documentary. “We would like to point out that there are no plans to postpone the festival or the market to a later date or to go virtual,” said the Berlinale, led by executive director Mariette Rissenbeek and artistic director Carlo Chatrian, in a statement, noting this. planned to hold both the festival and the European Film Market as in-person events ‘under 2G conditions’, meaning that all participants will need to be fully vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 infection ( the 2G of the German system, meaning geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)).

The 2021 European Film Awards, which were scheduled for an in-person ceremony in Berlin on December 11, have switched to a hybrid model in response to rising infection rates in Germany, while the Medienboard film and television fund, which hosts an annual eruption linked to the Berlinale, canceled plans for a party next year. But current conditions would still allow for an in-person festival. But current conditions would still allow for an in-person festival. Germany has tightened COVID-19 regulations – essentially banning the unvaccinated from most indoor public spaces, including cinemas – but the country is not on lockdown and there is no sign that the government wants to go. The Cannes and Venice film festivals were held in person this year, albeit under strict COVID-19 security protocols.

One of the concerns is that the fears around Berlin become a self-fulfilling prophecy if the number of companies canceling their travel plans reaches a critical point and the European Film Market becomes less attractive to other participants. “I have booked hotel rooms, offices and flights [for Berlin] and have every intention of going, but only if everyone shows up too, ”notes David Garrett of London-based sales company Mister Smith Entertainment.

The experience of late 2020, where the delta variant derailed the winter festival season, made everyone cautious this time around. In addition to keeping track of daily infection rates and travel restrictions, executives who want to travel to Berlin or Sundance will need to check they have the right vaccines. For Berlin, only people vaccinated with one of the four COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the European Union – Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca – are considered vaccinated under the “2G” regulations of the European Union. festival.

This could be a problem for participants from China and Southeast Asia, where Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines made in China have been widely used, or from Russia and parts of eastern and central Europe, where the Russian-made jab Sputnik is common. There’s unlikely to be much of a Chinese presence in Berlin next year anyway. Chinese New Year, Feb.1-15, falls right in the middle of the festival, and China’s strict COVID-19 regulations – all returning travelers must undergo a mandatory three-week hotel quarantine – render impractical travel.

Sundance will open its doors to a larger group. All participants and employees must be fully immunized “with a WHO approved vaccine,” which covers all four from Berlin plus Sinopharm and Sinovac and Covaxin from India.

“We will be following developments on the new omicron variant closely and will consider any new recommendations once scientists have more definitive information about it in a few weeks,” a Sundance spokesperson said. “We are confident in our model and are not currently changing our plans. “

For now, many are cautiously optimistic. “I was pessimistic, but now my optimism is getting the better of me,” says Thorsten Ritter of German sales group Beta Film. “Despite omicron, I expect Sundance to unfold like a hybrid [event] and Berlin will take place in person. And that the buyers will come. During our virtual AFM meetings, most of the distributors had already booked their hotels.

A version of this story appeared in the December 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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