Sundance Institute Names Toronto Film Festival Co-Head Joana Vicente as New CEO

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The Sundance Institute has named Joana Vicente as its new CEO. Vicente has served as the executive director and co-head for the Toronto International Film Festival for the last three years.

Vicente succeeds Keri Putnam, who announced in March that she would be stepping down from the Sundance Institute by the end of the year. Vicente’s last day with TIFF will be October 31, and her time with Sundance will begin at the start of November and will work between Park City, Los Angeles and New York City.

She’ll be tasked with leading strategy for the non-profit and building up on the Sundance Institute’s existing goals to support artists in film, theater and more. She’ll report to the group’s board and work with stakeholders, artists, funders, industry, donors and lead a year-round staff of 200, including the seasonal staff of 250.

Joana Vicente will oversee all areas of the Sundance Institute, including its year-round artist programs, the Sundance Film Festival, Sundance Collab, as well as working on public and field-building programs and its commitment to inclusion, equity and advocacy.

“This was a very comprehensive search to find the right person who would continue to move us forward with a vision that aligns with the founding values of the Institute’s founder, Robert Redford,” Board of Trustees chair Pat Mitchell and chair-elect Ebs Burnough, who led the search committee, said in a statement. “The world’s storytellers are more connected than ever, and Joana’s international background is vital as we look to integrate ourselves with independent artists on an even greater scale globally.”

They continued: “She comes to Sundance as a true champion of preserving, discovering, incubating, and encouraging independent artistry in all forms. She is a prolific independent producer in her own right with deep ties to Sundance. All that, combined with her history running a film festival, success in fundraising and partnerships, and her proven ability to navigate fundamental changes in technology and the ways in which audiences consume and experience content, makes us extremely confident that Joana will continue Sundance’s invaluable work on behalf of independent artists in the U.S. and around the world.”

“From the day we started the Sundance Institute, we have had a very specific mission to foster independence, risk-taking, and new and diverse voices in storytelling,” Sundance Institute founder and president Robert Redford said in a statement. “Throughout her entire career, it is evident that Joana shares this same uncompromising vision, and we know that she possesses a deep understanding of the evolving landscape, and can reach a new generation of independent creators working more fluidly across disciplines, communicating across borders, and engaging directly with audiences.”

Joana Vicente Sundance Institute
Joana Vicente at the Sundance Film Festival Awards Ceremony in 2013/Courtesy of Sundance Institute

“Sundance has been an essential part of my career — I feel that I grew up as a producer with the support of the Festival and the Sundance labs. It is such an extraordinary opportunity to lead an organization that has defined independent storytelling for 40 years,” Vicente said. “This opportunity combines all of my passions: film, working with storytellers throughout the world, and leading mission-driven organizations. I have always felt that Sundance was a home for me, and this opportunity makes me feel as if I am going back home.”

She continued: “As a producer, I know firsthand the incredible impact Sundance has on independent artists, and I look forward to working with Bob, the Sundance Board, and the amazing and dedicated teams at Sundance who continue to find new ways to discover, support, and inspire the most creative and diverse group of storytellers — not just in the United States, but all around the world. We are at a critical time for independent creators, and Sundance is poised to continue to be a beacon for storytellers throughout the world as they navigate the rough waters of our time.”

Vicente’s colleagues at TIFF also wished her well upon the news of her departure.

“Joana has helped us navigate this new reality while delivering the ground-breaking and industry-leading work TIFF has always been known for. We are deeply appreciative for all she has done for the organization and wish her the very best in her future endeavors,” Jennifer Tory, TIFF board of directors chair, said in a statement. “While we know Joana loved being part of TIFF, we understand the desire to return to her career in independent film and reunite with family in the U.S. after the pandemic has separated families across borders for so long.”

“Working so closely with Joana has been a pleasure. Her global perspective and strategic approach have been invaluable to our work on Festival and our year-round activities,” Cameron Bailey, artistic director and co-head of TIFF, said. “As what we do and the way we do it continues to evolve amid an ever-changing global landscape, one thing remains unchanged: TIFF is an internationally respected, locally-connected organization committed to transforming the way people see the world through film. I look forward to working alongside the TIFF Board of Directors as we continue to shape our future.”

Joana Vicente has worked as a filmmaker, producer and executive throughout her career and has been a prominent figure in the digital production and distribution revolution. She’s produced over 40 films, including “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” “Capernaum,” “Coffee and Cigarettes” and more. She founded three production companies, including the first U.S. digital production company, as well as the first HD production studio in the U.S.

Vicente is the co-founder and president of Open City Films since 1994, and she’s also produced 13 features and six short films that have premiered at Sundance, including “Three Seasons” and “Welcome to the Dollhouse.”

While at TIFF, Vicente in collaboration with her co-head Cameron Bailey planned a festival during the COVID-19 pandemic and oversaw the reorganization of TIFF, including leading the digital strategy and shift to a hybrid festival.

Prior to TIFF, Vicente spent nearly a decade as the executive director of the not-for-profit Independent Filmmaker Project (now the Gotham Film & Media Institute), leading the organization’s growth and the creation of the Made in NY Media Center by IFP. She was also co-founder and co-president of HDNetFilms and HDNet International along with Mark Cuban, Todd Wagner and partner Jason Kliot, and she was the co-founder/co-president of Blow Up Pictures.

The Sundance Institute and TIFF are working together to support a seamless leadership transition for both organizations.