Celebrating the Stories
June 1, 2008
She has witnessed both the excessive indulgence of celebrities in the United States and the heart-breaking poverty of families in Africa. From somewhere in the middle of those opposites, Jill Miller helps emerging filmmakers realize their dreams. As managing director of the Sundance Institute, Miller plays a key role in fulfilling the mission of Sundance: Nurture the artists and celebrate the storytelling.
What started as a small, independent film festival has grown to an international event attracting more than 48,000 people to Park City each January. Along with increased attendance and a thriving popularity among A-list Hollywood celebrities, combating the extravagant commercialism associated with the Sundance Film Festival keeps Miller on her toes as she reminds filmmakers, sponsors and attendees to focus on the films, not the trendy clubs and star-sightings.
“The best defense is a good offense,” Miller says. “That’s the only way to counteract that commercial craziness every year.”
By keeping the focus on the vast array of independent films, Miller believes Sundance will continue to be a place where the entertainment industry turns to find new, creative films and documentaries.
As technology evolves, filmmakers are redefining the way stories are told. In a generation of MySpace and YouTube, the festival must continually offer support to the artists and commit to its mission in a new and fresh way. “We never do the same thing in the same way,” she says. “I’ve never worked the same day twice at Sundance.”
However, the festival, which brings in almost $60 million, is only part of the non-profit organization. Developmental labs for film and theater allow directors, filmmakers, screenwriters and composers to hone their skills by providing a safe place for them to experiment with their work.
The one-on-one artist development is crucial to Miller who graduated from the University of Utah, and earned an MBA from American University in Washington, D.C. Once she moved back to Utah, Miller found the perfect job at the institute. “I’ve always been very interested in the arts and my strength has been in the business area,” she says. “So Sundance is a great fit for me.”
In stark contrast to her work with Sundance, Miller serves on the board of the Oulessebougou-Utah Alliance, a non-profit organization helping villages in Mali develop health, economic and education programs. Miller recently traveled to Mali to see firsthand the effects of the organization’s work with the people in that area.
“Going to Africa was a life-changing experience,” she says. “It puts life in perspective. We have so much, but struggle with being content. They are amazing, warm, friendly and welcoming people who really don’t have anything.”
When she’s not organizing dinner for 50,000 people at the Sundance Film Festival or climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Miller likes to relax with husband Michael Yei and their bloodhounds Mazy and Maude. “They’re our children and they sort of run our lives,” she says. “But at least we don’t have to put them through college.”
There really is no off-season at Sundance and as Miller gears up for the summer labs and next year’s film festival, her multitasking skills are put to the test. “It’s all about finding balance,” she says. “But I’m lucky enough to really love my job.”