Sundance Shocker: Joana Vicente Resigns as CEO; Former Instagram Exec Amanda Kelso Named Acting Leader

Joana Vicente has stepped down as CEO of the Sundance Institute.

The news will come as a shock to the global independent film community, as Vicente served under three years in a plum role she took after years in leadership at the Toronto International Film Festival. Amanda Kelso, a four-year member of the Sundance Institute’s Board of Trustees, has been named acting CEO in her place.

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“After two-and-a-half inspiring years, I have made the decision to begin a new chapter and will be moving on,” Vicente wrote in a Friday memo to colleagues. “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 … [and] have decided that it is time to explore new opportunities and adventures while I continue my lifelong passion for supporting transformative storytelling.”

Kelso, a former executive at Instagram, has come through in a pinch before. She served as interim CEO after longtime festival steward Keri Putnam stepped down as CEO in 2021, eventually being replaced by Vicente. Individuals familiar with Sundance said Kelso’s appointment will not be a short-term gig (likely more than a year) as the non-profit will need her expertise for continuity until a formal CEO search begins.

Vicente helped the organization survive what was undoubtedly one of the most turbulent periods in Sundance history. As COVID-19 forced the annual Utah event into virtual and hybrid editions, a domino effect rippled throughout the industry. Revenues at Sundance suffered, a lack of in-person engagement led to stalled film market sales and, perhaps most of all, the larger artistic community was impacted by forced isolation.

“As I jump into leadership, my goal is to further cement the place Sundance has in this greater ecosystem. We are at an important moment in time where the impact of the work we do to support artists matters enormously,” Kelso wrote in her own memo. “In this time of transition, I am reminded of the wisdom imparted by our founder, Robert Redford, who advised, ‘Don’t be shy of taking risks. It can be the catalyst that propels you forward.’ It is with this spirit of boldness and innovation that I plan to approach the future together.”

Vicente will remain an advisor to Sundance through the end of June.

“Much of our work has been focused on our long-term strategic planning process,” she concluded in her memo. “I am confident Amanda is the right person for the job. I am excited to see what comes next.”

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