Advertisement

'Why are you silent?' Pro-Palestinian protesters confront Hollywood at the Sundance Film Festival

Pro-Palestinian protesters on Main Street in Park City, Utah during the Sundance Film Festival on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024.
Pro-Palestinian protesters Sunday on Main Street in Park City, Utah, during the Sundance Film Festival. (Jen Yamato / Los Angeles Times)

About 150 to 200 pro-Palestinian protesters gathered in this mountainside ski village on Sunday, shutting down the normally bustling Main Street during the fourth day of the Sundance Film Festival, the indie film world's marquee event of the year.

Talent from films premiering at this year's festival were among those who participated, including former "Pose" star Indya Moore, here with the film "Ponyboi"; "Scream's" Melissa Barrera, here with "Your Monster"; and Simone Kirby and Jessica Reynolds, cast members of the film "Kneecap" about the Irish-speaking rap trio.

"We are not protesting Sundance," the action's first speaker said into a bullhorn amplified by a microphone. "We are protesting the complicity of mainstream media and their ability to not cover this genocide." The speaker also asked filmmakers and artists present at the festival, "Why are you silent?"

Speaking as part of the assembled protest group, Moore said, "If you care about life, if you care about dignity, if you care about freedom, if you care about the self-determination of everybody, then this is what you need to be standing with. This is what you need to be standing for, because this is about life. That's why I'm here.”

Holding signs reading "Ceasefire Now" and "Hospitals Are Not Targets" and chanting "Free, Free Palestine. Occupation is a crime," demonstrators assembled behind metal barricades near the festival's Filmmaker Lodge, attempting to draw the entertainment industry's attention to the plight of civilians in Gaza as the Israel-Hamas war that began with the terror attacks of Oct. 7 wears on, now in its 107th day. The Palestinian death toll since the start of the war has surpassed 25,000, the Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip said Sunday. The Oct. 7 raids killed an estimated 1,200 Israelis, and an estimated 130 of 250 hostages taken during the attacks remain in Gaza, Israel has said.

A pro-Israel counter-protester carries an Israeli flag.
A pro-Israel counter-protester carrying an Israeli flag faced the assembled action from across the street. (Joshua Rothkopf / Los Angeles Times)

A handful of counter-protesters responded, including a man with an Israeli flag and a microphone who read the names of the hostages aloud and others who chanted "Bring them home."

Speaking to The Times, "Kneecap's" Reynolds said, "All oppression is connected and especially in Ireland, our film is everything about colonialism and rejecting that. And that's why it's so important to support these causes like we're championing here. We're all Palestinians."

Added her co-star Kirby, "I just thought it's great that something like this is happening here in the middle of a film festival. I think that's fantastic, because artists are empathetic people.”

Both Sundance Institute, which organizes the annual festival, and the Park City Police Department, had advance warning of the action, which began around noon local time. Utah Highway patrol officers were also present on the scene.

Protesters march down a street
Pro-Palestinian protesters march down Main Street at Sundance 2024. (Jen Yamato / Los Angeles Times)

"The goal of the Park City Police Department is to provide health, safety, and welfare and to protect the First Amendment rights of all individuals," according to an email sent to Sundance Film Festival partners on Saturday, which warned of disruptions to deliveries and other delays. (The Los Angeles Times is a media sponsor of the festival.) "Law enforcement, as a contingency, is prepared to temporarily close portions of Main Street as dictated by the course of events to ensure public safety."

Utah activists based in Salt Lake City traveled to the festival's home base in Park City for the protest. “Sundance has a lot of international attention around it, and we want the world who's here this weekend to know that Salt Lake City stands in favor of Palestine,” said Ermiya Fanaeian, an organizer with Armed Queers of Salt Lake City, who provided security for the event.

Later, protesters moved up and down Main Street beyond the barricades, continuing to chant messages of support for Palestinians and criticism of figures in U.S. media and politics, including the line "This November, we will remember."

Protesters had largely dispersed and traffic was flowing again on Main Street shortly after 2:30 p.m. local time.

Sign up for Indie Focus, a weekly newsletter about movies and what’s going on in the wild world of cinema.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.