Directors Peter Middleton, left, and James Spinney participate in a Q&A with Park City High School students after showcasing their short film,  Notes on
Directors Peter Middleton, left, and James Spinney participate in a Q&A with Park City High School students after showcasing their short film, Notes on Blindness, alongside Ernesto Foranda, one of the shorts programmers for the Sundance Film Festival. Alexandria Gonzalez/Park Record.
Park City High School students get to participate in a unique opportunity during the Sundance Film Festival thanks to a partnership between the Sundance Institute and the Park City Institute. Filmmakers whose work is included in the festival stop by the high school to show students their film and participate in a Q&A session.

Kara Cody, the Sundance Institute manager of student and Utah community programs, said the plans begin in the fall. They meet with the Park City Institute to go over what did or didn't work the year before, and around Thanksgiving, they start looking at films to figure out which ones to show students.

"My favorite thing about the program is introducing students to independent film, because a lot of them don't know what it is," Cody said. "Also, being able to introduce stories from around the globe and hopefully start a conversation amongst the students, strengthening the community through the art of film."

On Wednesday, Jan. 22, directors Peter Middleton and James Spinney showed their short film, "Notes on Blindness" to a lecture hall full of students. The film features dramatizations of excerpts from the audio diary of John Hull, who lost his vision in 1983.

Middleton said he and Spinney were contacted by Sundance a couple of weeks ago, who told them about the program and gave them an opportunity to show their film to a student audience.

"We have done quite a few Q&A's with audiences throughout the festival, but this should be a very different audience," Middleton said. "You can always trust for a good honest question from a high school kid."

Ryan Miller, the film studies teacher at the high school, said he is grateful his students have such a unique opportunity. He said it has been a rich extension to the classroom that has provided a way for students to connect thematically and technologically to what he describes as the world's greatest film festival.

The film program in the Park City School District begins in ninth grade at Treasure Mountain Junior High School with Filmmaking I. Miller said he collaborates with teacher Sarah Maddox at the junior high to prepare students for Filmmaking II once they reach the high school.

Video Productions I and II and Film Studies are other courses offered at the high school, and Miller said they are hoping to launch Filmmaking III next school year. Until then, he said, the Filmmakers in the Classroom experience invigorates his students' excitement for filmmaking.

"It is a really good boost for motivating and catalyzing creative ideas. They get really excited to get in there and start going back to class bouncing ideas off each other," Miller said. "They are most excited to meet the directors and cast behind the work and see that if they want to become that, it is attainable."

Film students at the high school will hold their own festival - the annual Miner Film Festival - in May, so Miller said they are editing the rough cuts of documentaries they worked on last semester. They are also preparing short narrative and experimental films.

Jaimie Atlas, director of sponsor relations for the Park City Institute, said the program is part of their year-round student outreach program and is proud to be able to offer students a novel experience.

"Collaborating with Sundance for this is just a really unique and special opportunity for the students," Atlas said. "Not many other high school students get this opportunity, so it is really special for us to be a part of."

Cody said the Sundance Institute would like to thank its program supporters: the George S. and Dolores 'Doré' Eccles Foundation, Promontory Foundation, Park City Community Foundation, Park City Municipal, Park City Rotary, Summit County Recreation, Arts and Parks (RAP), and the Utah Arts Council and Endowment for the Arts.