This year’s festival is wrapping up, but Sundance is already looking to the future. At Saturday night’s awards ceremony, the film festival announced that Tabitha Jackson would take over the role of director from John Cooper, who held the title for over a decade. Jackson, who has worked for Sundance since 2013, will be both the first woman and person of colour to lead the festival.
“I realized that the reason I’ve done any of the work I’ve done is because I so firmly believe in the arts as yes, a public good, but also a kind of catalyzer for understanding ourselves more for social progress,” Jackson told The Los Angeles Times. “This festival is the most fun tool, but also one of the most powerful tools that we have at the institute to put forward those values.”
Before joining Sundance as director of the Documentary Film Program, Jackson worked at Channel 4 as a commissioning editor. As director of the festival, she will oversee a senior team and shape Sundance’s mission, vision, and strategy. She will also work closely with the director of programming, Kim Yutani.
“As we approach our 40th anniversary, I’m pleased to have Tabitha lead us as we move into the future and meet the next generation of artists and their stories,” Sundance founder Robert Redford said in a statement, as per Deadline.
So what can we expect to change with Jackson at the helm? “I asked [Redford], what did he want to see in the next festival director? And he said a commitment to independence and an embrace of change,” Jackson told The L.A. Times. “And so those have become my touchstones.”
According to a recent study from the Time’s Up Foundation and USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, women and people of colour are “vastly underrepresented” at festivals, both in creative and leadership realms. Though Sundance is one of the more diverse festivals — the study placed it as the top performing film festival for women directors of colour, and the second-best for women directors — there is still a long way to go. Across North American festivals, 85% of top executives from 2017-2019 have been white.
“The project of cinema is about grappling with the realities we’re dealing with,” Jackson told Deadline. “If you only have a sliver of people making films and a sliver of people being able to access them, then the project is doomed in a way.”