Published November/December 2012

Go West, Young Cinephile

Your behind-the-scenes look at film festivals in Utah, Colorado, and northern California

BYChristine Maxa
Some film festivals carry global cachets.
For instance, the festivals in Venice, Italy, and Cannes, France, captivate with their romantic surroundings and opportunities to rub shoulders with the bright talent shining in the films.
But movie buffs don’t have to cross the Atlantic to experience film festivals in great places. Out here in the West, we have our own brand. And some occur in the most charismatic of destinations.
An Independent Streak
Once upon a time, in 1978, the Utah/US Film Festival appeared in Salt Lake City to draw more filmmakers to Utah, then called “Hollywood’s scenic backlot.” People came, but the event could never break even. The late Sydney Pollack, one of the festival’s early directors, wryly suggested that if it took place at a ski resort during ski season, “Hollywood would beat down the door to attend.” So, the festival moved to Park City, got support from Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute, changed its name to Sundance, and has lived happily ever after. 

What started as a venue, described by a former director “to show old movies and talk about them,” became known by the industry as the midwife for cutting-edge independent films. It’s the place where anyone who wants to experience the globe’s heart and soul (and sometimes underbelly) must go.
And Sundance doesn’t stop with movies; it’s an entire culture of creativity that includes music and art. The whole scene emanates an energy that keeps everything buzzing and everyone inspired.

All this iconoclasm fits in a city that never did see eye-to-eye with the rest of the state. The silver-mining-town-turned-ski-resort kept its raucous first residents satiated with the state’s earliest taste of libations (High West Distillery and Wasatch Brew Pub, both still in operation) and occupied with a rollicking red light district (now Deer Valley’s high-end district). These days, Park City has several personas — world-class wonderland in winter and secret cool spot in summer. During Sundance, its independent streak reigns.
At the same time, the western Rockies’ slopes of the Wasatch Mountains are at their legendary best. With nine bowls, eight peaks, and 355 inches of snow, one can understand Pollack’s prescient advice.

“You live a dream lifestyle for nine days,” says three-time Sundance winner Stacy Peralta. “You get to snowboard on pretty much empty world-class mountains during the day, and watch films and have dinner with friends late into the night.”
Sundance Film Festival
Sundance Film Festival
Park City, Utah
Park City, Utah
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