Inaugural Imagined Futures Bonfire lights up Sundance Film Festival |

Inaugural Imagined Futures Bonfire lights up Sundance Film Festival

Flames rise from burning paletts during the Sundance Film Festival’s inaugural Imagine Futures Bonfire.
Tanzi Propst/Park Record

What: Sundance Film Festival

When: Through Feb. 2

Where: Park City, Salt Lake City and The Sundance Resort


Sundance Film Festival director John Cooper, who will step down from his post after 11 years at the end of this year’s festival, said a few sentimental words before he lit the inaugural Imagined Futures Bonfire at the Flag Pole Parking Lot on lower Swede Alley Thursday night.

“This is going to sound corny, but I would like to have a festival that’s even better without me,” Cooper said.

Tabitha Jackson, director of Sundance Institute’s documentary program, who led the bonfire program, asked if Cooper meant what he said.

“I do, because I want to come back next year and see all of these people here and see (it) even more and bigger and exciting than it is this year,” he said.

Jackson then asked Cooper to write those thoughts on a wooden pallet that would be burned in the fire.

She also asked Park City Mayor Andy Beerman, who along with other City Council members interrupted their meeting to attend the bonfire, what his imagined future would be like.

“On a global level, I imagine a future where we stop focusing on our differences and things that pushes us apart in a future where we focus on our shared challenges,” Beerman said. “We use things like the climate crisis and the great inequities we are facing, and disease and pandemics, things we see right now to bring us together.”

Beerman also conveyed another wish from a local standpoint.

“We have enjoyed almost 40 years with Sundance, and a lot of people look back at those periods and say, ‘The best days are behind us,’” he said. “But I hope through strong partnerships and bold decisions we can move forward and our best days are ahead.”

Jackson asked Beerman if Sundance has either “destroyed” or “enhanced” Park City.

“We always enjoy having the festival here,” he said. “I won’t lie, it pushes us hard, but it’s worth it. It’s a wonderful time.”

The bonfire, Jackson said, was an experiment.

“We feel deeply part of the community here — the Festival community, the Park City Community,” she said. “So we wanted to do what storytellers have done since time began, which is to gather around a fire and be together in community.”

Cooper lit the pyre, which consumed a stack of wooden pallets that people had written down the future they wished to imagine.

Prior to the lighting of the pyre, the crowd that attended the event were treated to a percussive, gravity-defying performance by the Jambo African Heartbeat Drummers, and a couple of songs performed by members of the Park City High School Choir.

In addition, Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine and Zainab Jah, who are featured in Ekwa Msangi’s “Farewell Amor,” one of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival’s U.S. Dramatic Competition entries, read a poem.

Right after the fire lit up the lot, Bart Powaukee, a Utah environmentalist and member of the Ute and Nez Perce tribes, led a drum circle that featured Randall Paskemin, a member of the multi Grammy-nominated Northern Cree drum group.

“We come here and we sing these songs for you guys,” Powaukee said as he addressed the crowd. “They’re traveling songs for your travel home, so safe travels for everybody.”

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