Sundance Film Festival relies on its volunteers
January 15, 2016
When the Sundance Film Festival hits Park City next week, an army of international volunteers will help festivalgoers pick up tickets and passes, finding theaters and directing them to special events.
"The Festival received more than 3,000 applications this year," said Melissa Bowers, manager of volunteers for the Sundance Film Festival, during an email interview. "We are so lucky to have passionate people from around the world wanting to help us make this Festival the best it can be.
"We could not put on the Sundance Film Festival without our volunteers," she said. "They help with almost every single aspect of this fantastic event. They serve as information liaisons, photographers, drivers, receptionists, merchandise stockers, theatre builders, works crew, event staffers and more."
For the past decade, Park City resident Cheryl Soshnik has volunteered at the Sundance Film Festival. Last year, Sundance Institute honored her with the Gayle Stevens Volunteer of the Year Award.
While she enjoyed the festival during its early stages, the Old Town resident eventually got frustrated with the crowds and traffic and took month-long biking vacations to New Zealand in January to avoid the gridlock.
"Well, 10 years ago in November, I realized I didn’t have a trip planned for January," Soshnik said during an interview. "That’s when I saw an article in The Park Record that said Sundance was looking for volunteers. So, I thought, ‘If I can’t beat ’em, I’ll join ’em.’ And that’s how I became a volunteer."
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The experience changed her life.
"My first job as a volunteer is the same thing as my 10th year as a volunteer," Soshnik said with a giggle. "They assigned me to work in the main pass and package office at the Gateway at the bottom of Main Street. Now, I will absolutely not leave town until February, because volunteering has been a priority."
Volunteers, who come to Park City from as far as Argentina, Brazil, China, Japan and Russia, must be at least 21 and must participate in several training sessions before the festival opens, according to Bowers.
"One is usually a general festival overview and one is specific to the role they do during the Festival," she said.
There are three classifications of volunteers: Sign Ups, who volunteer for 24 hours minimum; Half Fest 1 and 2, who work 40 hours minimum; and Full Time, who work at least 80 hours.
Soshnik volunteers at least 100 hours for the Sundance Institute year-round and most of those hours are done during the off-season.
"So, I usually volunteer just 24 hours during the festival so I can enjoy the films, attend the panels and listen to music at the ASCAP Music Café and all the other programs the festival has to offer," she said.
Soshnik, who is a self-proclaimed people person, loves to interact face-to-face with people at the ticket office.
"Most of them are 99.9 percent happy and excited when they come pick up their passes and packages," she said. "I like it when the office is busy. It’s crazy and hectic before and [during the] beginning of the festival. It’s fun to explain how to Sundance, where to go, what things to look for and what celebrity sightings to be ready for."
Meeting and interacting with people from all around the world is just one of the benefits for volunteers, Bowers said.
"We have a pretty comprehensive list of benefits for volunteering and these vary based on how many hours you volunteer," she said. "Benefits range from free tickets to meals and more.
"Fortunately our volunteers share their time with us because they are passionate about film, want to support our mission and give back to their community," Bowers said. "Potential volunteers can always check out our website for more information or reach out to us."
Sundance Film Festival volunteer applications open in August and close on Oct. 1.
"We could not put on the festival without our volunteers," Bowers said. "Not only does their passion and enthusiasm provide an amazing experience but it also energizes our staff and keeps the atmosphere fun. We are so grateful to our volunteer community and cannot wait to see them soon. Luckily we get to see our local volunteers more often."
While Soshnik has enjoyed many experiences as a volunteer, one moment stands out more than the others.
"Usually the people who come to the ticket office are from the general public, but one year, a filmmaker came in because he had purchased a ticket package," she said. "One of the requirements we have is that everyone has to show a photo ID in order to get their tickets."
The filmmaker, whose name Soshnik can’t remember, realized he had left his wallet in the hotel.
"So, he grabbed the Sundance Film Festival catalog and turned to the page that had the write up about his film," she said. "Well, there was a full-color photo of himself smiling back at us and we accepted that as his ID."
The ticket-office volunteers had him sign their catalogs.
"And then he asked us to sign his, because all of the volunteers are listed in the back," Soshnik said. "That was fun."
The Sundance Film Festival will run from Jan. 21 to Jan. 31 in various venues in Park City. Individual tickets for local residents are on sale, and individual tickets for the general public go on sale on Thursday, Jan. 21. For more information, visit http://www.sundance.org .