Sundance leaping onto Iowa City screens through FilmScene partnership

FilmScene chosen as Satellite site for largest U.S. independent film festival

Among the Sundance Film Festival selections being screened at Iowa City's FilmScene from Thursday through Feb. 1 is #x20
Among the Sundance Film Festival selections being screened at Iowa City’s FilmScene from Thursday through Feb. 1 is “Judas and the Black Messiah.” Closing the festival offerings on Feb. 1, it’s the story of Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, and his betrayal by FBI informant William O’Neal. (Courtesy of FilmScene)

This year’s Sundance Film Festival has one foot planted in the virtual world, and the other planted in the real world, thanks to Satellite Screen partners like FilmScene in Iowa City, showing Sundance films from Thursday through Feb 1.

A community-based showcase for domestic and foreign independent movies, FilmScene’s “adventurous” reputation caught Sundance organizers’ attention, said Andrew Sherburne, FilmScene’s executive director and co-founder.

He also credited the audiences who have supported the cinema’s original site on the Ped Mall, which remains closed due to the pandemic, as well as the new anchor site inside The Chauncey building, where the Sundance films will be screened Thursday through Feb. 1. The limited in-person audiences were determined by a lottery drawing last week, but others can watch the movies through the Sundance website.

“Sundance is a tastemaker in many ways, so I think they were looking for organizations that have a proven track record of also being adventurous programmers, and programmers that value diversity on-screen, behind the camera, and shared their approach to their filmmaking mission,” he said.

“I don’t know what the criteria was for selecting partners, but it was an honor to be chosen, and I think it’s a reflection of not just the work we do here, but also a reflection of the quality of our audiences. We have a community that shows up for adventurous film, and that was a big factor in it, as well.”

In a “normal” year, Sherburne, 41, of Iowa City, would expect each of The Chauncey’s three theaters to be packed for the screenings, but because of the pandemic, audience size is greatly reduced. So FilmScene opted for a raffle, where entrants could choose preferred days and times. Sixteen names were drawn this past Thursday — one name for each screening — and those winners can, in turn, invite people with whom they’re comfortable seeing a movie. As with other FilmScene showings, masks will be mandatory until guests are in their seats.

“For us, the most important question always, right now, is can we do this in a way that we are comfortable with, that we believe is safe,” Sherburne said. The raffle system, he said, creates a comfort zone for staff as well as guests.


“We recognize that it’s a bit unorthodox, but that’s really what we’re able to do right now safely.”

Even though the reduced seating means the screenings won’t be sold out, he said the raffle response has been good.

“There’s a lot of interest in the community from our patrons who are excited to be able to catch one of these films in the theater,” he said. “It was never going to be an opportunity to pack the house, so really what we’re interested in, more than anything, is doing it in a way that makes everybody comfortable.”

FilmScene is receiving a small host stipend from Sundance.

“Overall, we are sharing in the work and the costs required to put this event on,” Sherburne noted. “We do get to keep the ticket sales. This is not going to be big a moneymaker for us, just because of the restrictions of the pandemic. ... It’s just an opportunity for our audiences to see some films at the vanguard of new filmmaking, films that will be talked about this year — and just a bright spot in an otherwise dim cinematic year.”

Film lineup

The films being screened in Iowa City were chosen in collaboration between Sundance and FilmScene, designed to pique the interest of local audiences. The selections, and their directors, are:

• “In the Same Breath,” United States, 2021: Acclaimed filmmaker Nanfu Wang navigates the origin and spread of COVID-19 from Wuhan to the United States, through a lens both personal and geopolitical in scale.

• “Homeroom,” United States, Peter Nicks, 2021: A revealing, outspoken coming-of-age story about the students of Oakland High School’s Class of 2020. (This screening raffle was open to registered Iowa filmmakers and crew members with the Produce Iowa Media Production Directory.)

• “Rebel Hearts,” United States, Pedro Kos, 2021: A look at one of the biggest religious showdowns of the 20th century, which pitted a non-conforming group of feminist nuns against a powerful patriarchy insistent on female subservience.

• “Mass,” United States, Fran Kranz, 2021: Years after a tragedy, two sets of parents are finally ready to talk in an attempt to move forward.


• “R#J,” United States, Carey Williams, 2021: In fair Verona, a war as old as time is brewing — but it’s being captured in a new way. Montague and Capulet Gen Zers are using their cellphones to document the eruptions of violence plaguing their communities.

• “Cusp,” United States, Parker Hill, Isabel Bethencourt, 2021: Chronicles one formative year of teenage life for three friends in a Texas town. (Contains discussions of sexual violence.)

• “Mayday,” English, Karen Cinorre, 2021: A feminist fever dream and an ambitious re-imagining of a war film, “Mayday” detonates expectations to question where empowerment truly lies.

• “Judas and the Black Messiah,” United States, Shaka King, 2021: The story of Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, and his betrayal by FBI informant William O’Neal.

Other options

These in-house films aren’t the only way to engage with the Sundance festival on local and wider virtual realms. All the films can be viewed online, by ordering tickets through links on the Sundance website,

Free online discussions and conversations also will be available through the Sundance Festival Village and FilmScene’s Nightly Sundance Virtual Lobby.

“FilmScene is curating some conversations with Sundance filmmakers as well as Iowa filmmakers and local film experts and academics,” Sherburne said. “Part of Sundance’s goal here is to create conversation around film, and they’re doing that in the virtual space through their Festival Village.

“We will be curating some conversations with the other art house Satellite Screen partners around the country, so if anyone wants to listen to filmmakers fresh off their world premieres talk about the movies that they made, they can do that,” Sherburne said. “(The filmmakers) will dig deep into what went into the making of these films, and what people hope the impact of these films will be. ...

“Anyone can listen in and be part of those conversations.”

Private parties

Otherwise, FilmScene at The Chauncey opened in September, but because of the pandemic, it’s only offering private screenings of movies, as well as curbside concessions on the weekends. Collins Road Theatres in Cedar Rapids and the Marcus Cinemas in Cedar Rapids, Coralville and Waterloo also are offering private screenings, in addition to their other programming.


“Those have been very well received,” Sherburne said of the private parties. “We have nine slots every weekend, and many weekends, they’re all sold out. ...

“People have really enjoyed coming in. It’s a chance to have a big-screen experience when there’s not many opportunities to do that right now,” he said.

“It’s a celebration of something that we all probably all took for granted for so long — a chance to get out of the house and a chance to do something special.”

At a glance

• What: FilmScene Sundance Satellite Screen host

• When: Thursday to Feb. 1; admission by lottery drawing held last week

• Where: The Chauncey, 404 E. College St., No. 100, Iowa City; FilmScene’s Ped Mall site remains closed during the pandemic

• Sundance Online Festival:

• Festival Village: Free content,

• FilmScene’s Sundance Selected Films: Details at

• FilmScene’ Nightly Sundance Virtual Lobby: Free discussions,


• FilmScene’s Kernels for Kindness: Curbside concessions, $15 to $30,

• FilmScene movie parties: Private screenings with 10 to 15 guests, $200 to $375,

• Other Corridor private movie screenings: in Cedar Rapids and in Cedar Rapids, Coralville and Waterloo

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