Like an imminent hurricane, the Sundance Film Festival is upon us. And, if history is any indication, it's going to be a Category 5 again this year. As always, Park City is the eye of this annual storm.

As if we were all Florida natives, most locals know exactly how to prepare. We stock up on groceries, liquor and other needed items just before it hits. We put gas in our cars. We call our loved ones and assure them we'll be fine. Then we batten down the hatches and hope for the best.

And as with every hurricane, there are always a few thrill-seeking locals who rush out into the storm, defying death, and ride the incredible waves (also called premieres).

But one thing we locals seem to forget, in the midst of the deluge, is how the festival floods us with fabulous year-long opportunities and measurable impacts.

There is, of course, the finance factor. According to Sarah West, director of Utah community development for the Sundance Institute, in the last five years the festival has added more than $370 million to the state's economy.

"The University of Utah does an economic impact study for us each year," West said. "They work their statistical magic and figure out how much the out-of-state visitors spend while here for the festival. The nice thing about this number is that it doesn't include what locals spend, so it really is a number that reflects what visitors here specifically for the festival contribute to our bottom line."

Last year's festival added a cool $80 million to our economy and Sarah has high hopes this year's event will be even stronger.


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"As the economy continues to recover, we see film enthusiasts more willing to travel and spend money," she said. "And these figures don't include the impact of people who come here and fall in love with the state and then come back to ski, or visit in the summer, or go to Moab. Those are just extra contributions. Sixty-six percent of the people who come to the festival are from out of state, and of that, about 35 percent are first-timers to Utah. But it's generally not their last trip here."

Sarah, who has been with Sundance for about six years, describes her job as a liaison between the community and the institute. "I try to get a feel for what we can do to make the 10 days of the festival more enjoyable and worthwhile for the locals."

Basically, she tries to find ways to thank us for hosting the hurricane each year.

And she does a pretty good job at that. For example, Sarah is in charge of community outreach tickets during the festival. "When we screen films, we always ask ourselves, 'Can this film somehow benefit a local nonprofit?' And if the answer is yes, we make sure that charity gets some tickets to the film. We invite them to be our guests at the festival."

This year, the festival gave out more than 500 tickets to Utah nonprofits, including Friends of Animals, The Hope Alliance, Summit Land Conservancy, People's Health Clinic, Peace House and others.

Sarah and her team also offer special screenings for our servicemen and women and the Native American community. And they frequently give away ticket packages to nonprofits to be used at fundraisers. "We give away 48 ticket packages a year to help charities raise money from selling them. Almost all of those packages go to local nonprofits," she noted.

Sarah also works throughout the year to bring relevant community programming to Park City residents.

"We have a summer series in July and August, and we screen films at Canyons Resort and Red Butte Gardens, and we keep these free and open to the public."

She hopes to elevate the collaboration with the Park City Film Series, which helps locals see films they may have missed during the 10-day festival.

And, of course, there are the Best of Fest and Townie Tuesday events, which allow locals to see free movies during Sundance, including the winning dramatic and documentary films.

For Sarah, it's rewarding to see Parkites be part of the big event. "The community is starting to embrace Sundance and that's really exciting. We are a local nonprofit - we call Park City home. We just happen to have an international reach. But we don't forget our roots here. And being part of the team that gives back to a community that so graciously hosts us each year, it's really exciting."

While Sarah is now hunkered down in full hurricane-survival mode, she's looking forward to a few sunny days after the storm clears. "The weeks leading up to the festival are long and hard weeks. But when it's over, we all get a few days off. I look forward to reintroducing myself to my family and catching up on life."

And like most of us, she also looks forward to welcoming back those who evacuated unnecessarily.

Amy Roberts is a longtime Park City resident, freelance writer and the proud owner of two ill-behaved rescue dogs, Boston and Stanley. If you have a story idea, please e-mail her at sabordog@aol.com.