PARK CITY — The start of the Sundance Film Festival every January brings filmmakers, movie buffs and celeb watchers to Park City for 10 days of independent films.
The festival, which began Thursday, draws strong responses from both fans and critics, with some saying the festival brings needed attention to Utah and others saying all it brings is crowding.
Sundance began in Salt Lake City in 1978 as an effort to attract more filmmakers to Utah. The goal was to showcase American-made films and highlight independent filmmaking, as well as draw attention to Utah's potential as a filming mecca.
Over time, the festival began drawing Hollywood stars and large crowds, leading some to say it had lost touch with its roots, while others said it had finally accomplished what it was meant to do.
The festival brings with it challenges — parking seems nearly impossible in Park City, and the influx of attendees strains connectivity in Park City and throughout the valley — but here are five reasons locals should be happy Sundance is in Utah:
- It helps the economy
More than 46,000 people attended the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Salt Lake City and Ogden in 2012. Nonresident visitors spent $69.7 million during the festival. Earnings for Utah workers because of the festival were $36 million.
The economic impact of spending by the Sundance Institute having to do with the festival was $10.5 million in gross state product and $4.5 million in earnings for Utah workers.
The impact was not strictly due to festival activities, either: 30 percent of attendees said they planned to ski or snowboard while in the state.
- It gives aspiring filmmakers, actors and actresses a chance to shine
Sundance's popularity with Hollywood means all those independent films that may normally have gained extremely limited exposure at small, local festivals have the opportunity to be showcased in front of film industry giants.
Just over 1,900 U.S. feature films are submitted to the Sundance Institute every year. Of those, a few hundred may be picked up for at least limited release every year. Some, like 2009's "(500) Days of Summer," went on wide release after gaining exposure at the festival.
The percentage of festival attendees who classify themselves as entertainment industry festivals is rising — up to 27 percent in 2012, compared to 22 percent the year before — so Hollywood hopefuls may see increased chances to make it big.
- You can stargaze
It's not for everyone, but some Utahns have made a career of stargazing at Sundance.
Skippy Jessop, a UVU graduate and entertainment reporter hopeful, realized while volunteering at Sundance that it was an opportunity for networking. He hopes to get a job in media because of the connections he has made, but for some locals, it is just enjoyable to see the celebs they would normally only hope to see on the streets of Los Angeles or New York.
- It brings attention to the state
Of the more than 31,000 nonresident attendees in 2012, about 35 percent said the festival was their first visit to Utah.
Of nonresidents, 84 percent said they had traveled to Utah specifically to attend the festival, and 44 percent said they planned to visit Utah again, according to the Sundance Institute.
Nationwide media cover the festival, too, drawing attention not only to the attendees, but to the state and its tourism industry.
- It diversifies the Utah art scene
Utah has become known for being indie friendly in recent years. The Provo music scene has produced such well-known bands as Imagine Dragons, Fictionist and Neon Trees, and people with Utah ties regularly make appearances on talent-focused reality TV shows, trying to make a name for themselves without needing a label.
The state has a sprinkling of well-known museums and many smaller galleries, but Sundance diversifies Utah's offerings, offering independent film along with independent music and art. And the more the state has to offer, the more it will benefit, as is evidenced by the $69.7 million in gross state product because of the 2012 festival — a number that continues to grow every year.