Sundance Film Festival volunteer will rack up her 14th year
When the Sundance Film Festival opens on Thursday, it will include more than 2,200 volunteers from 20 countries and 46 of the 50 states.
Of that number, 1,426 are returning volunteers and 796 are new, according to the event’s media relations manager Jason Berger.
“Volunteers have been scheduled to provide service for 102,596.91 hours for the festival,” Berger said in an email.
One of the returning volunteers is Julie Bookman, a freelance reporter who specializes in writing about books and the performing arts and hails from Atlanta.
“This year marks my 14th consecutive year as a full-time Sundance Film Festival volunteer,” said Bookman, who also writes for Playbill Magazine in New York and Encore Magazine in Atlanta. “And I can’t imagine my life without doing this.”
Bookman said food poisoning was her ticket to becoming a Sundance Film Festival volunteer in 2005.
“I was sick at home going through New York Times stories that I had set aside to read later,” she said. “There was a story about the films that were going to Sundance.”
Bookman reached out to a friend who had run the sound and light board at Sundance’s Filmmakers Lodge during the panel discussions.
“She told me about all the volunteers, and made a call,” Bookman said. “Usually you’re supposed to get your volunteer applications in by October, but since my friend agreed to share a bedroom with me, they said they would take me.”
Since then, Bookman has introduced her friends, her sister and her sister’s husband to the festival’s volunteer world.
“While my sister wasn’t too into it, her husband has also became a regular volunteer,” Bookman said.
Throughout the years, Bookman has worked different assignments at three venues — a crowd liaison at the Holiday Village Cinemas; a shift leader at the Park Avenue Theater in the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, and a shift leader at the Library Center Theatre.
“When I was at the Holiday, things got crazy busy because we were working four theaters,” she said. “I manned the door. I loved being a door guard because I had to make sure everyone who comes in is allowed to come in.”
One night while she was manning the door, Bookman was approached by a man with a camera.
“He told me his last name was Redford and that he didn’t need a pass to get in,” she said.
Bookman radioed someone to see if that was correct, and then asked the man if he knew filmmaker Jamie Redford, whose father is Sundance Institute Founder Robert Redford.
“The man said, ‘Yes. I’ve known her for years,’” Bookman said. “Then I said, ‘but Jamie’s a guy.’”
After Bookman turned to talk into the headset, the man hurried away.
“It was the funniest thing,” she said.
Another one of Bookman’s fond memories is her interaction with award-winning actor Peter Dinklage a couple of years ago.
“We do our very best not to approach celebrities, but if they talk with us, that’s a different story,” she said. “One night I was wearing a ‘Hamilton’ T-shirt, and he came up and told me he couldn’t get tickets because the shows were sold out. I told him my friend is in charge of the hair and wigs for the show, and I was sure I could get him some house tickets. We had a great conversation.”
The little highlights and connections Bookman makes with people like Dinklage are fun, but don’t compare to the friendships she makes with her fellow volunteers.
“My favorite thing about volunteering is that I have friends from around the world who are film maniacs like me,” she said. “When they come to Atlanta, they can stay at my home. If I go visit them in Sydney, Australia, or visit them in China, I can stay at their homes.”
Being a Sundance Film Festival volunteer is a dream come true for Bookman, whose father, Larry Swindell, wrote biographies about classic Hollywood stars Carole Lombard, Spencer Tracy, John Garfield, Gary Cooper and Charles Boyer.
“My mother was an Equity actress, and Oscar night was like Super Bowl night in our family,” she said. “So I see Sundance as summer camp for grown ups in the winter that is exclusively for film nerds like me. We watch, watch, watch, talk, talk, talk and work, work, work film for two weeks.”
The Sundance Film Festival will run from Jan. 24 to Feb. 3. For information, visit sundance.org.
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