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Sundance Institute CEO Joana Vicente Stepping Down

Joana Vicente is departing the Sundance Institute, where she has overseen the nonprofit and its storied film festival since late 2021. Sundance board member Amanda Kelso will step in as acting CEO through April, while Vicente will remain as an adviser to Kelso and the board through June.

Vicente came to Sundance from the Toronto International Film Festival, and arrived as COVID had pushed the festival online for 2021 and again in 2022. During her tenure, she spearheaded a hybrid format for 2023 and 2024, in which films would be viewed in person as well as online. Like most festivals, fundraising has been challenging due to the pandemic followed by pressures in the larger economy. In June, the Institute laid off 11 staffers. Vicente has also been under pressure to set the festival up for the long term and shape its vision amid a challenging landscape for independent film.

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“I look back at the significant work we have accomplished together at the Institute and the herculean task of bringing the Festival back from the pandemic — all while making the Festival more accessible by welcoming a community online,” Vicente wrote in a letter announcing her exit. “From our first pivot to a digital festival and two successful in-person hybrid festivals, we have cemented Sundance’s position as the best platform for emerging storytellers. Facing extraordinary financial and logistical headwinds coming out of COVID, we came together to find new ways to ensure that our in-person artist labs, the heart of Sundance’s mission, could continue on.”

Her tenure is relatively short in Sundance standards. Previous CEO Keri Putnam spent a decade there, while fest director John Cooper stepped down in 2019 after a decade.

Sundance Institute board chair Ebs Burnough thanked Vicente in a statement and called her “a true advocate for independent storytellers,” adding, “she will continue to positively impact this community.”

Kelso, who has previously served as acting CEO, said, “I believe in the power of Sundance and its ongoing impact in nurturing our mission-based work.”

Read Vicente’s letter announcing her departure below.

Dear Sundance Community,

After two and a half inspiring years, I have made the decision to begin a new chapter and will be moving on from my role as CEO of Sundance Institute.

Over the past six years, I have had the privilege of leading two of the most culturally significant organizations for independent film in North America through some of the most challenging times for our industry. This journey has been incredibly rewarding. I’m so proud of the work our Sundance team has accomplished together, championing independent storytellers and amplifying their voices. As I look ahead, I have decided that it is time to explore new opportunities and adventures while I continue my lifelong passion for supporting transformative storytelling.

The board and I are working closely on the leadership plan, and I am pleased to share that Sundance board member Amanda Kelso will be returning to oversee the organization as acting CEO. I will remain on as an advisor to Sundance through the end of June, providing support to Amanda and the board and ensuring a smooth transition for the organization’s continued success.

With great pride and respect, I look back at the significant work we have accomplished together at the Institute and the herculean task of bringing the Festival back from the pandemic – all while making the Festival more accessible by welcoming a community online. From our first pivot to a digital festival and two successful in-person hybrid festivals, we have cemented Sundance’s position as the best platform for emerging storytellers. Facing extraordinary financial and logistical headwinds coming out of COVID, we came together to find new ways to ensure that our in-person artist labs, the heart of Sundance’s mission, could continue on.

As an organization, over these past years we have been able to sustain and expand our support of global storytellers. We have found ways to offer more funding opportunities for independent and creative voices. These newly launched fellowships to uplift underrepresented storytellers are impacting the careers of so many. We have also expanded the opportunity for artists internationally, with new Festivals in Asia and the recently announced Sundance Film Festival CDMX in Mexico City. Together, we have set the Institute up for future growth and stability to continue its meaningful work supporting artists and connecting their projects with audiences worldwide.

Much of our work has been focused on our long-term strategic planning process, and I am confident Amanda is the right person for the job. I am excited to see what comes next.

Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to be supported by Sundance as a producer, and it has been a privilege to lead this extraordinary organization, directly supporting the mission Robert Redford started over 40 years ago. I will forever be your champion and I can’t wait to see what you accomplish next.

Warmly, Joana Vicente

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