Sundance Film Festival Director Tabitha Jackson to Exit, Kim Yutani to Join Senior Leadership Team

Jackson, named director in 2020, will leave the Sundance Institute after the festival’s upcoming London edition beginning this week

Tabitha Jackson Kim Yutani Sundance
Tabitha Jackson (left) Director, Sundance Film Festival and Director of Programming Kim Yutani. Photos courtesy of Sundance Institute by Josh S. Rose and Agnieszka Wojtun

Tabitha Jackson, the director of the Sundance Film Festival and Public Programming, will exit from her role at the Sundance Institute, the non-profit’s CEO Joana Vicente announced Tuesday, while also elevating Kim Yutani to a senior leadership role.

Jackson was named director of the Sundance Film Festival in 2020 and has been with the Institute since 2013, and she will depart shortly after the upcoming Sundance Film Festival: London, which takes place later this week.

Yutani, the festival’s director of programming, will now join the Sundance Institute senior leadership team and for the interim lead the development and planning of the festival. Vicente is now leading a public search for the festival’s next director.

Yutani, who joined the festival in 2006 and has led programming for five years, will also now manage festival industry and artist relations. Yutani will work closely with Vicente in the planning of the next festival alongside senior programmers John Nein, who also leads Strategic Initiatives, and Shari Frilot, who is also the Chief Curator, New Frontier.

“We are grateful to Tabitha and her contributions to the Sundance mission over the last eight and a half years as a leader at the organization. She helped lead the Sundance Film Festival through the ongoing pandemic, helping transform it for the future, all while keeping independent artists as our north star. There is no doubt that she has left her indelible imprint on the organization. She leaves us with the Festival never more vital than during this time of great change in our industry and in a place to continue to make a meaningful contribution to culture,” Vicente said.

She continued: “I look forward to leading the Festival in the interim and working more closely with Kim and our exceptional team of film programmers. The strength and experience of our existing Festival leadership and programming team means there is no shortage of talent to continue forward with the work we are doing for next year’s Festival.”

Jackson took over the Sundance Film Festival from John Cooper just as the pandemic hit and derailed the festival’s in-person plans for the past two years, forcing Sundance to go fully virtual, though the Institute boasted that its virtual platform attracted record viewers and attendance as a result. The festival plans to return to a hybrid format for its 2023 edition.

Jackson joined the Institute in 2013 as the Director of the Documentary Film Program, where she oversaw the creation of new programs and resources that supported nonfiction filmmakers worldwide –  notably the Art of Nonfiction Initiative in which she worked with form-breaking filmmakers to create a program exploring the creative process by centering the artist rather than the project.  

“Being part of driving forward the mission and purpose of the Sundance Institute has been a deep privilege and a profoundly meaningful part of my life,” Jackson said in a statement. “This incredible organization has only increased my unshakeable belief in artists as a transformative societal force and, in this complex and challenging historical moment, a force more necessary than ever. Going forward, working with and for artists and their freedom of creative expression will continue to be be my guiding light.”