Sundance lifts the curtain on a new venue
January 16, 2018
The vacant building shoehorned into the elbow of the Holiday Village shopping area in Park City used to be a popular spot to buy socks, soccer balls and snowboards. But when the old Sports Authority location reopens as "The Ray" during the Sundance Film Festival, locals will hardly recognize it. One of Park City's first ski shops has been converted into a state-of-the art theater.
The festival's newest venue will house a 500-seat cinema, a black box theater and an exhibition space for many of this year's New Frontier virtual and augmented reality exhibitions.
"I am so profoundly proud of this venue," said Sundance's Technical Director Holden Payne. "It will really show off the filmmakers' work in the way it is meant to be shown."
With more than 50 surround speakers Payne adds, "It's basically 3D sound." In addition to the Dolby Atmos technology, brand new high back seats and "the biggest screen we could fit in there," Payne unabashedly claims, "there won't be a bad seat in the house."
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The stadium seating flows upward from where the store's old cash registers were located, to the mezzanine where snow boots and sneakers could often be found on sale. The projection booth sits high above the back row and the walls on all sides are studded with impressive banks of high tech speakers. In December, the sounds of construction workers still hard at work were swallowed up by the sound-absorbing insulation that Payne says will heighten the whole experience.
"It's a very dead room so we can control the sound in a very compelling and amazing way," he said.
The theater has a 4K digital projector but is also equipped with 35mm equipment enabling Sundance to screen rare archival films without damaging the prints.
"I think it is going to be one of the best rooms to see a film anywhere," he said.
The old ski sharpening and waxing area has been reserved for many of the festival's New Frontier offerings including digital and augmented reality exhibitions and panel discussions. Visitors will be ushered in the middle door and down the stairs to the Black Box, a spacious lounge and individual artist spaces.
"It is bigger than the Claimjumper, where New Frontier was previously housed, but it is still very intimate," said Sundance Operations Director Tina Graham, who spent much of the holiday season overseeing final touches on The Ray. "We are making a permanent space for the program to land."
Sundance has leased the location for five years with two options to renew, but there are no immediate plans to keep the venue open beyond the festival. "We will take a step back and evaluate it and see what the city will allow us to do," she said.
In the meantime, festival-goers should make a special effort to attend at least one screening at the new venue and take a swing through New Frontier while they are there.