Interview with Kim Yutani: Director of Programming for the Sundance Film Festival

ELLE: I’ve been joined by the lovely Kim Yutani for start of the Sundance Film Festival 2019 London strand! Thank you for joining us Kim – how have you found the kick-off this week?

KIM: We’re really excited to be back here in London for the 7th year and to be working with The Picturehouse. It really feels like we’ve found our place here with them. For the public screenings, I anticipate the films to play really well and because we are working so closely with The Picturehouse on the programming, they know their audience really well. It’s important for us that we get a sense of what the audience may like here because we do cater to such a huge audience in Utah, but The Picturehouse knowing who their audience is and who comes here makes a difference – so fingers crossed for a good reception!

ELLE: How do you go about making the selection from what comes over from the main US festival to the London strand – how complex is this?

KIM: A lot of thought goes into the process of planning the festival as a whole, and we want it to reflect what we do in Park City in January and so this becomes a more distilled version, and so folk here understand what we do. It does mirror the Park City programming in a way as we want a collection of fiction, documentary, and a variation of voices in the programme. But it’s also important to have local filmmakers too, including Shola Amoo who made THE LAST TREE, and for him to share his film to the hometown crowd.

ELLE: For you personally, what made you want to delve into this industry? As we know you did consultancy for Provincetown International Film Festival and as the Artistic Director at Outfest in Los Angeles, was there something that specifically drew you in?

KIM: I just loved independent cinema, especially was happening in the US in the ’90s as I sort of came of age! When I went to Sundance for the first time in the Mid-90s, it completely changed my life. I was so influenced by that world, the energy of the film festival, seeing what the reach of it was and how festivals actually help filmmakers was really exciting to me. I never really knew I could have a job at Sundance, and so I pursued it in a very diligent way once I realised that I could get a job in programming – and that’s what I decided as my vocation. The work first and foremost, but also being at the festival.

ELLE: But you also started out in the industry by working along the lines of film criticism – and so how did the two interlink?

KIM: Writing a film review every week, and just being able to choose what I do on a weekly basis had really helped me to form opinions about films quickly. Sometimes you watch things, and do need time to soak it in – that is the best way to approach it, but I think the film criticism trained my brain in a different and concise way and has informed what I do as a film programmer. It helps me to process quickly, but with film programming, it’s such a group effort, and what other people say does also influence what we think ultimately. I always thought, ‘oh I need to form my own opinion and stick to that’, but then in terms of what we do, this doesn’t always make sense. It’s good to listen to everyone else in the room.

ELLE: How is the atmosphere within the team, as many of you have been working closely for a while – do you still find the energy bounces off each other quite well?

KIM: What is essential for a film programming team is team chemistry and the fact that we all respect each other, that we all listen to each other even if we don’t agree – but that we all allow ourselves to integrate and it’s good to be open with each other and it is really fun. It’s hard to do work like this by yourself and is much easier when you all get along.

“When I went to Sundance for the first time in the Mid-90s, it completely changed my life. I was so influenced by that world, the energy of the film festival, seeing what the reach of it was and how festivals actually help filmmakers was really exciting to me.”

ELLE: What’s it like working within the other film markets, such as the Cannes Marché du Film and the EFM at Berlin – do you enjoy this side of it as well when all sides of the industry come together?

KIM: I do, I think that going to big film markets like the EFM is really important for what we do as programmers. We get to remind the world that we exist, and certainly, we get an early ear on what to expect. We do start tracking fairly early on, for example, as soon as Sundance in Park City has ended, for Berlin in February, I start finding out what I can expect this next year, it’s such a useful opportunity.

ELLE: Do you find that the industry is collectively facing the same issues in terms of the disruption of digital streaming online and on demand, as this does cause an impact on traditional cinema and the way film is experienced?

KIM: I think each faction is facing different problems with it, but we are all curious about where film is at and where we are going. But it’s also interesting to be in a festival where different factions of our industry to collaborate, and we do end up having really interesting conversations with distributors, and film salespeople and the producers about being in film at this time.

Elle: And a final question to round this up, what do you envision for Sundance in the next few years?

KIM: What we have is really good, and I think we are always striving to keep doing better each year. As soon as the festival ends, we reflect upon what we’ve done, what we did well, what we didn’t expect, and process this all together. This allows us to be able to make adjustments as we move forward to continue doing what we do better.

We’d like to thank Kim Yutani, the Sundance Team and The Picturehouse for this interview. Catch up on all the latest industry work on the official Sundance Institute website: