January 14, 2014

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Sundance Film Festival 30 Years in the Making

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Sundance Film Festival 30 Years in the Making

By Rachel Madison | Photos courtesy of Sundance Institute

January 14, 2014

The institute also partners with the Utah Office of Tourism to encourage attendees to come back to Utah for a vacation. While Hopkins says the institute doesn’t currently keep track of how many people return for a vacation, it’s a metric the organization is looking into tracking in the future. However, of the estimated 30,065 nonresident festival attendees in 2013, approximately 40 percent indicated they would visit Utah again during the next year.

Stambro says it’s hard to predict how 2014’s festival will turn out. “If you look at the last five years, changes in spending patterns and their impacts are well within an acceptable range for steady. I don’t expect huge increases, but you never know.”

Although the festival’s numbers have remained fairly steady over the last five years, that doesn’t mean the numbers aren’t impressive. Stambro says anyone would be hard pressed to find another 10-day event that generates the kind of money the Sundance Film Festival generates. “For a 10-day event, the festival is fairly impressive,” she says. “It’s a big event that is concentrated with thousands of people.”

Cultural Impact

The festival’s cultural impact is something that cannot be overlooked. Thousands of independent films have been shown at Sundance from around the world over the last 30 years. Marshall Moore, director of the Utah Film Commission, says the number of movies that have transitioned from the festival into the mainstream has been very impressive.

“Many of these films have been picked up by major studios and have launched the careers of many of our mainstream filmmakers today,” he says. “[The festival] has created a hub for creativity that has expanded the way we look at independent film.”

Moore says when the festival first began, independent films were looked at “as a couple of people with a camera who run out and steal shots.” Now, independent films are the way most people make their scripts a reality and find investors who believe in their project.

Labs held during the summer months at the Sundance Institute also contribute to the festival each year. “Redford nurturing that creative process at his labs during the summer months is essential,” Moore says. “Young filmmakers get to learn about producing, screenwriting and music. The labs nurture young filmmakers and give them experience with mentors and help to build this industry locally.”

Moore says Sundance has ultimately changed the way people look at Utah. “[The festival] creates diversity and opportunities for people to come visit the state that normally wouldn’t do so,” he says. “It basically puts us on the filmmaking map. It’s a festival, but it brings in thousands of potential future filmmakers to the state that normally wouldn’t be here.”

Moore considers Sundance to be the premier film festival in the United States and the world. “For 10 days every year, the entire entertainment world focuses on Utah,” he says. Notable movies that have been filmed in Utah and shown at the festival include 1998’s SLC Punk, starring Matthew Lillard; 2003’s The Maldonado Miracle, starring Peter Fonda with director Salma Hayek; and 2010’s Frozen, starring Shawn Ashmore.

Utah and its culture are a really important part of what the Sundance Film Festival is, says Pearce. Because of this, the institute is always excited to connect with the local community. Pearce says high school and college students are frequently invited to screenings of films shown at the festival, and the institute also partners with local organizations to create panel discussions.

“We look for issues in films that address what might interest certain groups and then we reach out to local nonprofit organizations that have a mission to connect with those issues,” Pearce says. “We really feel like we provide a rich cultural program.” Some of these organizations include the Utah Film Center, Park City Film Series and Park City Education Foundation.

Besides creating a unique culture in Utah, Redford has also worked to make Utah a recreational destination. In fact, during the 2013 festival, almost 40 percent of nonresident attendees said they intended to ski or snowboard in Utah during their stay.

“During the past 30 years, Robert Redford has elevated Utah’s visibility, created jobs and enhanced our film and tourism industries in a meaningful way,” Gov. Gary Herbert wrote in a letter for the 2014 Sundance Film Festival catalog. “Redford has helped protect and preserve some of our state’s most breathtaking landscapes and distinctive natural wonders. His ambassadorship and infectious enthusiasm for Utah
are commendable.”

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