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Sundance Institute CEO Joana Vicente to Step Down

Sundance Institute CEO Joana Vicente is stepping down from her role as CEO after two-and-a-half years on the job, the non-profit organization announced Friday.

Sundance Institute’s Board of Trustees has appointed board member Amanda Kelso as acting CEO while the institute launches a search for a new CEO. Kelso is returning to the organization after formerly serving as acting CEO in 2021 before Vicente was picked for the job after the departure of long-time CEO Keri Putnam. She’ll transition into the role in April, and Vicente will stay on in an advisory role through June.

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“After two and half inspiring years, I have made the decision to begin a new chapter and will be moving on from my role as CEO of Sundance Institute,” Vicente wrote in a memo shared by Sundance. “Over the past six years, I have had the privilege of leading two of the most culturally significant organizations for independent film in North America through some of the most challenging times for our industry. This journey has been incredibly rewarding, and I’m so proud of the work our Sundance team has accomplished together, championing independent storytellers and amplifying their voices.”

Vicente joined Sundance from the Toronto International Film Festival back in 2021, succeeding the influential Keri Putnam in the role. Vicente was at the helm during one virtual Sundance Film Festival in 2022 but also oversaw its return to in-person with a hybrid format in 2023 and earlier this year in 2024. The Institute also endured layoffs last summer, with 11 staffers, or about six percent of staff, being let go.

The Institute in a statement said Vicente has been responsible for creating new funding opportunities for artists with fellowships that “uplift underrepresented storytellers,” that she continued in-person labs for artists and expanded Sundance internationally into Asia and the recently announced CDMX festival in Mexico City.

“Joana has been a tremendous asset to the Institute and our global community of artists and has worked through some of the most challenging times for our industry during her time here,” said Sundance Institute Board chair Ebs Burnough. “She has been a true advocate for independent storytellers, and I know she will continue to positively impact this community. On behalf of the entire board, I want to thank her for all that she has done for the Institute and independent film.”

Burnough continued: “Amanda joined the board in 2020 because of her admiration for the work our organization does and our mission to support artists. Over these four years, her skill set from decades of work at the intersection of storytelling and technology has helped contribute to the strategic decisions the board plays a role in. It’s those same reasons why she stepped in before and why she is making a longer and larger commitment now to guide the team and lead the organization through strategic planning and the day-to-day operations of the Institute.”

“As we look toward the future of the Sundance Institute, I am filled with both pride and humility as I take on the role of Acting CEO,” Kelso said. “It is an immense honor to return to lead during this pivotal time for arts organizations, and more specifically, independent storytellers. I believe in the power of Sundance and its ongoing impact in nurturing our mission-based work. This work is dedicated to the discovery and development of independent artists and connecting them with audiences around the world.”

Kelso is co-chair of the Sundance Institute’s Technology Committee and a member of the Finance Committee. She helped the organization pivot online during the pandemic and has 25 years of experience at companies like Google Creative Labs and as a member of the Producers Guild of America’s New Media Council. She started her career working on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” and her work has been recognized by the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, SXSW, D&AD, Clios, One Show, The Jim Henson Technology Honor, and Communication Arts.

Kelso will report to the board and lead the Sundance Institute’s year-round staff of 165, as well as seasonal staff, as well as oversee all areas of the Institute such as the artist programs and Sundance Collab.

The Sundance Film Festival recently announced its dates for the 2025 edition, which will run January 23 through February 2, 2025.

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