The Undervalued Stars Of The Sundance Film Festival

The Sundance Film Festival is an internationally recognized festival of filmmaking talent,  acting prestige, and abounding wealth. From its humble beginnings as a localized, independant film festival to a monolith cinematographic proving grounds and Hollywood pipeline, Sundance is associated as much with the glamour of film stardom as it is with big corporate sponsorship dollars. What is often overlooked is the fact the hundreds of local business play an integral role in promoting and facilitating the success of the Sundance festival. Everyone from the local hotels of Park City’s main street to the companies supplying the vendor tents contribute heavily to the success of Sundance.

Sundance Film Festival’s growth in prominence has led to a huge amount of sponsorship dollars and an influx of infrastructure investment and tourism to Park City, Utah. While  generally supporting the festival site, much of this enormous growth has led to controversy over the role of celebrity culture and mass media advertisement in defining the festival and making the showcase of film a secondary focus.

Some even claim that the merits of independent film and the importance of exploring challenging subjects through film have been diluted in favor of extending a vicarious consumer obsession with unaffiliated haute couture and brand sponsorship to the festival. This has been a contentious issue among festival executives, filmmakers, and the general public. One important caveat to all of this remains, though: local businesses.

While Park City, Utah is never as glamorous as it is during the Sundance Festival, local business maintain and grow the town the other 358 days of the year. The city enjoys a revenue and tourism boost during the week of Sundance but the city still rests on the local energy. The many local bars and restaurants of Park City supply culture, food, and important venues for activity throughout the week. This is one facet of a successful festival that can’t be imported from outside. If the town itself doesn’t have a welcoming, lively nature, no amount of celebrity hubris will affect the festival vibe for the better and drive a memorable festival year after year. Ultimately the town makes the festival.

Even more undervalued are all of the workers and local volunteers at the heart of the festival. The people waiting your table, pouring your drinks, changing your sheets, cleaning the bathrooms, mopping the floors, tending the theatres, shoveling the sidewalks, and checking your tickets are the backbone of the festival. Everything else is just decoration. Local retailers, tent rentals Salt Lake City, the Salt Lake Film Society, and suppliers of everything from lighting to transportation help define the Sundance Festival for the internationally acclaimed festival it is.

Looking at the Sundance Festival on a more granular level helps to keep the glamor in perspective and appreciate the thousands of local efforts that continuously make the festival sustainable and memorable. The cumulative efforts of everyone from the festival’s board of directors to the chair lift operators at Deer Valley should be recognized as vital elements that make Sundance happen each year.

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By Ben Vaughn

Ben Vaughn is a proponent of local businesses and supporting sustainable communities through art, music, and film. He writes extensively on Park City tourism and the Sundance Film Festival.