Sundance Film Festival’s Longtime Leader Is Stepping Down

John Cooper, the director of the Sundance Film Festival, will be stepping down next year, the Sundance Institute announced Thursday. He will take on the newly created role of emeritus director after the 2020 festival comes to a close in February.

Cooper has been on staff for 30 years. He took over the festival, a pre-eminent showcase for independent American movies, in 2009. During his tenure, he introduced programming sections dedicated to shorts, documentaries and low-budget films, and guided the creation of offshoot festivals in London and Hong Kong.

As emeritus director, he will oversee special projects and the 40th anniversary of the Sundance Institute in 2021.

“This journey has been exhilarating,” Cooper said in a statement. “I attribute any success I have had to being part of an amazing staff (past and present) who strive together to help storytellers follow their dreams and launch careers.”

The move comes as the festival — and independent film in general — grapples with remaining relevant in an age dominated by video-on-demand and streaming platforms. In 2015, the producer Jason Blum, whose film “Whiplash” opened Sundance in 2014, said, “Your local art house cinema is moving to your living room.”

Sundance has taken notice.

“Native Son,” a feature adaptation of Richard Wright’s 1940 novel that had its world premiere at this year’s festival, was picked up by HBO. And “Delhi Crime," an Indian drama series, debuted its first two episodes at the festival and found a home at Netflix.

The movie with perhaps the most promise in January was the dramedy “Late Night,” starring Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling. Amazon bought it for $13 million, but it flopped at the box office, bringing in $11.7 million in North America, despite playing in more than 2,000 theaters in the past three weeks.

Another challenge the festival faces is finding someone who can succeed Robert Redford, the 82-year-old founder of the Sundance Institute, as its public face. Without that star power, the festival will have to rely that much more on robust film and television programming.

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