Volunteers, both old and new, are critical to Sundance Film Festival’s success
What: Sundance Film Festival
When: Jan. 23-Feb. 2
Where: Park City, Salt Lake City, Sundance Resort
This year’s Sundance Film Festival, which will run from Thursday through Feb. 2, boasts multiple screenings of more than 118 feature films in various venues, the weeklong ASCAP Music Cafe, the BMI Snowball music showcase and dozens of panel discussions with filmmakers, actors and other film-industry insiders.
To ensure things run smoothly for the more than 122,000 people who are expected to attend the festival, the Sundance Institute relies on more than 2,200 volunteers each year, according to media relations senior manager Jason Berger.
Volunteers, including 104 from 24 foreign countries, help with all aspects of the festival, including but not limited to managing lines at the box office and theaters, assisting new and returning filmmakers, chauffeuring jury members, running venues and even snow removal, Berger said.
“(They help) with almost anything at the festival,” he said.
To understand what entices a volunteer to participate, and what the experience is like on the ground in Park City, The Park Record spoke with two of this year’s volunteers, one a first-timer and the other a returning Sundance veteran.
Lucie Guillemot, a first-time volunteer
Lucie Guillemot comes to the festival from Paris.
“I’ve always wanted to work with the Sundance Film Festival, and so you can say I’m very excited, to say the least,” Guillemot said during a phone call two weeks ago. “I’ve never event attended the festival before, so this is one of my dreams that is coming true.”
Guillemot’s job will be as a Sundance Industry Office theater operations representative. She will serve as an onsite liaison at film screenings. Her duties will be to provide support for sales agents at theaters, and ensure that theater operations run smoothly and fairly.
Guillemot will also work with theater teams to find solutions to problems such as viewers arriving late to screenings and coordinate car and driving schedules for important guests when needed.
The new volunteer, whose childhood prize possession is a poster of the 2006 Sundance Film Festival comedy/drama “Little Miss Sunshine,” was surprised to be selected as a volunteer this year.
“I sent in my request in September, and then I received a couple of emails telling me not to give up even though they had received many applications,” she said. “I didn’t think it would ever workout, but someone from the festival contacted me directly to say there was a position open. They told me if I answered right away, I would get it. So I did.”
Guillemot learned about volunteering while working as a curator for the New York City Independent Film Festival. The job requires her to watch films in Paris, then fly to New York every May when the festival is held.
“One of our volunteers told me he also volunteers at the Sundance Film Festival, and that I should apply,” she said. “I wasn’t aware that I could just send in a volunteer request in French, but he told me I could. So I decided to try.”
The film festival bug bit Guillemot in 2013, when she volunteered at the Seattle International Film Festival as part of a study-abroad program.
“I was studying political science, which in French means more than just politics,” she said. “In my third year, a student can do either an internship or attend a university for the study abroad. I wanted to have a professional experience. So I applied to the film festival and it was amazing.”
Guillemot, who is also a filmmaker, has been interested in film since she was a child.
“When I was 8 I took theater classes, and realized how fun it was to act, but more fun to direct,” she said. “I saw what my teacher did and realized I wanted to do that.”
Guillemot got her first camera when she was 11, and would film anything she could.
“I wanted to work in cinema, and I can say that my whole life surrounds around film,” she said. ‘So I’m looking forward to this new adventure.”
Jeri Smith, veteran volunteer
Smith, who lives in Houston, has been a Sundance Institute summer labs volunteer for more than 30 years, and a Sundance Film Festival volunteer for 15.
Throughout her volunteer career she has worked in various stations, including the festival box office, theater venues and as a jury assistant.
For the past few years, she has worked at the alumni desk, which serves the festival’s returning filmmakers.
“People are automatically assigned to you to help you maneuver through the festival if you are a first-time director,” she said. “So when you come back the next year, the alumni desk fills in that duty.”
Smith, an actress and acting coach who taught theater and acting in film, ventured into volunteering while on summer vacation at the Sundance Resort.
“I happened to be there for a reading during the directors lab, and I’ve been going there ever since,” she said.
Smith began volunteering at the film festival after gentle prodding from her lab colleagues.
“They kept telling me I should come back during the winter, but I was always teaching or doing a show,” she said. “Once I retired from fulltime teaching I was able to finally do it.”
While Sundance offers training and a mentorship program for new volunteers, most of the training during the festival is done on the job, Smith said.
“You learn how to do things as you go along,” she said. “At the alumni desk, we usually have two volunteers who know what to do, and during the busy times there is a third volunteer we usually get to teach.”
Smith enjoys working at the alumni desk, because she runs into old friends from the summer labs who happen to be filmmakers.
“I also get to see the films they have made,” she said. “Since I work in casting at the labs, I can also get reacquainted with the actors.”
Through the festival, Smith has made strong friends from all around the country over the years.
“While we keep in touch through social media, the best thing is being able to sit around a fire and catch up with a glass of wine every year,” she said.
The biggest challenge for being a volunteer is dealing with lack of sleep.
“We work long hours that start at 8 in the morning,” she said. “When our shifts are done, we’ll get to go see some films and get together afterwards for a glass of wine. Then we’ll have to be back at our posts at 8 a.m. again the next morning. So I, like many of my fellow volunteers, end up going home and sleeping after the 10 days are over.”
Still, Smith said there isn’t anything better than helping people from all over the world learn to appreciate independent film.
“We have the opportunity to have these conversations about the films people have seen or the actors they have met,” she said. “It’s a remarkable atmosphere.”
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Julian Doan’s short film “Raspberry” will begin its on-demand, virtual Sundance Filim Festival run on Jan. 28.