Parkites rally for year-round art house cinema
Once the Sundance Film Festival came to town in the 1980s, Park City residents were hooked. But they weren’t satisfied with a once-a-year, two-week event. After a decade of exposure to Sundance, a group of citizens and the local arts council began clamoring for a year-round program. In 1995, their call to action reached City Hall and their efforts eventually morphed into one of the town’s favorite nonprofit organizations.
According to Park City Film Series Executive Director Katy Wang, early screenings generally consisted of movies shown at the previous year’s Sundance Film Festival and took place quarterly. The staff was made up of volunteers and the atmosphere, like the films, was eclectic. A prize drawing, usually featuring a canned chicken, preceded each show eliciting friendly cheers and jeers.
Over the last two decades, the program has expanded, the projector is more sophisticated and the staff is paid, but the mood is still vintage “mountain town.” And yes, the evening still starts with a drawing with politically correct prizes like reusable popcorn bowls, cloth grocery bags and locally baked baguettes.
The emphasis, says Wang, is on community engagement as much as curating a season’s worth of films.
The intent, she said, is to create a community around film, which means adding more free programming and Q&As with directors.
“It has a personality. It’s not just random. There is an intention behind every film. It is not just what is going to do best at the box office which is more of a commercial theater’s mentality,” said Wang of the film selections.
Examples of Park City-centric films presented by the organization include the documentary “Crash Reel” about the aftermath of an Olympic snowboarder’s near-fatal accident at a local resort; “Wind River” which was shot in Summit and Wasatch counties, and lots of films about mountains like “K2,” “Everest” and “Sherpa.”
Wang said the Series also partners with local nonprofits “to help foster their missions.” A recent example was the screening of “God Knows Where I Am,” a documentary about schizophrenia shown in conjunction with the local mental health awareness group, CONNECT.
Climate change is another topic of interest to Parkites, so Wang says they often choose films about the environment. For one of those, “Chasing Ice,” they arranged to have the director Skype in for a discussion after the film.
In addition to Sundance providing expedited access to many films and their directors, Wang credits Sundance with more tangible support. “Sundance has always been a great partner, right from the outset, not just as an outlet, but in all of the equipment upgrades we’ve done,” she added.
“They’ve always been very generous in bringing resources to the table we couldn’t possibly bring,” Wang said, adding that when the Series made the switch to digital projection, Sundance pitched in to ensure the theater would have the best possible projection and sound equipment.
During the “Go Digital or Go Dark” campaign in 2013, the community rallied to the cause and Sundance added an important boost. “Because of Sundance we are able to upgrade much more quickly than we could on our own and we have a state-of-the-art system.”
The Park City Film Series also has become more than a reflection of Sundance. After two decades of careful tweaking, the schedule has expanded to include live theater broadcasts, foreign language cinema for kids and short films by local filmmakers.
Regular programming, though, is suspended during the Sundance Film Festival. But behind the scenes the Park City Film Series staff and more than 100 volunteers stay busy manning the concession stands for hungry festivalgoers at the library venue. According to Wang, it is the Series’ biggest fundraiser of the year. And like the group’s slate of films, the snacks are carefully curated to showcase local vendors.
But as soon as Sundance ends, Wang and her staff are back in business.
“It is such a joy to bring these stories to our community,” she says, hinting the board is already at work booking films for the spring.
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