Sundance Institute CEO Keri Putnam is stepping down after 11 years

Keri Putnam, who as the CEO of the Sundance Institute has championed inclusion in media and oversaw this year’s virtual Sundance Film Festival, will step down in August, the institute announced Thursday.

“After an incredibly rewarding decade, and following the success of our first-ever online festival, I have decided it’s the right time for me to step down as CEO of Sundance Institute,” Putnam said in a statement released by the institute. “The remarkable growth of our community of artists, audiences and partners over the last 10 years is a testament to the vitality and urgency of the independent storytelling Sundance supports.”

Putnam did not announce her plans, saying only, “I look forward to exploring new challenges and opportunities in my next chapter.”

The institute’s founder, actor-filmmaker Robert Redford, said in a statement that Putnam has been “a fierce supporter of independent creators,” and “instrumental in seeing the Institute through a decade of transformation, while keeping a laser-focus on Sundance’s mission of preserving, discovering, incubating and encouraging independent artistry in all forms.”

Putnam is credited with launching programs to support filmmakers in production, financing and distribution — such as Sundance Catalyst, which has raised $40 million in equity and grant money over the last eight years for a variety of independent projects.

She has expanded and begun programs to encourage underrepresented voices — women, artists of color and artists with disabilities — and to commission research on equity and inclusion in media. In 2012, she launched Sundance’s partnership with researcher Stacy Smith and Women in Film, to study the festival’s own applicant data, leading to the Women in Sundance program to achieve gender parity in Sundance’s programs. The research also inspired ReFrame, an advocacy group for women in media co-founded by Putnam.

Putnam also oversaw the launch of Sundance’s satellite film festivals in London and Hong Kong, and artists’ labs across the United States and in Mexico, eastern Africa and the Middle East. She also helped moved Sundance’s lab programs online, on the Sundance Co//ab platform, which has hosted 1 million users in 150 countries.

In the last year, as the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world, Putnam watched over the development of the online platform for the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. She also dealt with a pandemic-fueled decline in the nonprofit group’s donations and revenue, and laid off 24 employees in July.

Before being hired to run Sundance in February 2010, Putnam was president of production at Miramax Films, then under The Walt Disney Company, after the departure of Miramax’s founders, brothers Bob and Harvey Weinstein. Before that, she was executive vice president at HBO Films.

The heads of Sundance’s board of directors, chair Pat Mitchell and vice-chair Ebs Burnough, will lead a search committee to find the institute’s next CEO.