Sundance puts out call for Festival volunteers
It’s a tough assignment but comes with enticing perks
Every year, Melissa Bowers has the unenviable task of assembling a battalion of 2,000 volunteers to serve in the trenches of the Sundance Film Festival during Park City’s busiest, blusteriest time of year. Among other equally tough assignments: they shovel snow, corral crowds, set up and tear down venues and gently shepherd nervous first-time filmmakers and international visitors to their appointed screenings.
But according to Bowers, a former volunteer herself and now Sundance’s Senior Manager of Volunteer Resources, there is never a shortage of enthusiastic applicants, eager to support the Festival’s commitment to independent film.
Combing through as many as 3,000 applications per year is tough, but she says, “It is hard to hate your job when people are willing to do so much for so little.”
Bowers is keenly aware of the sacrifices that many of the volunteers, who come from all over the country, make just to be part of the Festival experience. “They are giving up vacation time and time with their families. They remind our staff of why we do what we do. They reinvigorate everyone.”
In fact, a large percentage of the impromptu workforce returns year after year and, as may be expected, many are from Park City and the surrounding area.
According to Sundance Media Manager Jason Berger, that dovetails with the organization’s goal to “involve locals as much as possible.”
“That’s a core value. They already have an attachment to the state and care about Sundance’s vision,” he said.
The call for volunteers for this year’s festival, which takes place Jan. 18-28, is underway and closes Oct. 31.
At the end of the month, Bowers’ department will begin combing through applications with an eye for a wide range of skills from carpentry to fluency in a foreign language. They typically enlist everyone from “everyone from students to CEOs,” she said, adding that their diverse experiences bring in fresh ideas.
Data from the 2017 Festival shows that volunteers ranged in age from 21-81 and hailed from 20 different countries. More than half were Utah residents and a whopping 1,300 were returnees. According to Berger, “Altogether they logged over 100,000 service hours.”
The online volunteer application lists 19 categories of assignments including: artist liaisons, theater operations, transportation, and tech services, among others. Bowers said every attempt is made to place people where they want to go but, she adds, “we do ask the they be flexible.”
Applicants can also choose between a one-week (half-fest) or two-week (full-fest commitment).
Once enlisted, there are some perks. Volunteers receive matching Kenneth Cole parkas, and, depending on the number of hours they sign up for, have access to several special screenings and venues.
They also get lots of snacks and a sense of supporting Sundance’s reputation for cultivating new, independent voices.
For many Sundance volunteer veterans, it appears the camaraderie outweighs adverse conditions like last year’s relentless parade of snowstorms that put their commitment and enthusiasm to the test.
“Last year was tough, but nobody walked off the job. Some pushed themselves too hard but I was amazed by how hard they kept trying,” said Bowers.
The biggest challenge, though, is not the weather: it is housing. According to Bowers, applicants are warned that lodging in Park City is extremely limited and those who are coming from out of town are encouraged to scour a variety of resources before making a commitment.
To ease that burden, a group of former volunteers has set up a Facebook page to help housing hunters find potential roommates and available spots. Regular residents who might have a spare room to offer in January can also check out the page Homeless At Sundance.
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