Volunteers are essential to the Sundance Film Festival | ParkRecord.com

Volunteers are essential to the Sundance Film Festival

More than 1,900 volunteered last year

Sundance Film Festival goers will notice a lot of seemingly ordinary people donning puffy Kenneth Cole jackets.

They are the festival’s volunteers.

They can be found in all sorts of places, including the ASCAP Music Cafe, the Sundance House, the Sundance Film Festival box offices and New Frontier.

They also work hard giving directions, answering questions, transporting filmmakers and stars to screenings or private functions and doing everything from running films to venues to various office duties.

There are 1,977 volunteers at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, according to a festival press release. More than 1,210 are returning from last year and 628 are new.

Western Kentucky University student Michael Blackshire is a new volunteer.
Blackshire, who arrived from from Louisville, Kentucky, earlier this week, is a film major and a photojournalism minor. And while this is his first year volunteering, it’s not his first year attending the festival.

“For the past two years, I came to Sundance as a student with a study-away program for school,” Blackshire told The Park Record during volunteer check-in on Wednesday. “The class was basically an English class and we watched movies and wrote essays, depending on the pass we had.”

This year, the class filled up during the second week of school, and Blackshire missed the deadline.

“I wasn’t able to get in, but I still knew I had to come to Sundance,” he said with a smile. “So, volunteering was my only option. I’m the only one from my school who is volunteering.”

Blackshire knows volunteering will be different than attending the festival as a student.

“When I was here as a student, there were really no rules,” he said. “We could do pretty much what we wanted to do.”

Volunteers, on the other hand, have to make sure to get to their stations at a certain time.

There are three categories of volunteers, each with different requirements, according to the Sundance Film Festival.

  • The first is Sign-Up Volunteers.They can sign up for their schedule and commit to a minimum of 24 hours total during the festival, according to the festival website.
  • The second category is known as Half-Fest Volunteers.These volunteers music commit to at least 40 hours of a preassigned schedule, and be available between noon and 4 p.m. every day.
  • The last is Full-Time Volunteers.These people commit to 80 or more hours and are required to work eight to 10 hours, throughout the whole festival.The benefits of volunteering include, but are not limited to festival access, a uniform, refreshments, tickets to screenings and an opening-night party.

    Park City resident Susan Lee Strauss, unlike Blackshire, is a longtime Sundance Film Festival volunteer, with 23 years under her belt.

    “I was on the Sundance Film Festival staff for several years and I ran a venue called the Screenplay Coffeehouse,” Strauss said. “That was great because we had screenwriters who would come in and speak to the public after their screenings.”

    One thing that stuck with her after all of these years is realizing how down-to-Earth some of the filmmakers are.

    “I was a volunteer driver when I was pregnant a few years ago,” Strauss said. “I was very ill during the pregnancy and would have to pull over often.”

    During one assignment, Strauss was driving documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, known for his film “Supersize Me.”

    “I had to pull over a few times because I was sick, and he was so cool and awesome about it,” Strauss said. “Rita Wilson was also very nice to me.”

    Throughout the past 23 years, Strauss has seen the festival change and grow.

    “I mean, I’ve seen [festival director] John Cooper go from a print runner to a programmer to running the festival,” she said with a laugh. “I love everything about it.”

    Sometimes Strauss runs into locals whose experiences as volunteers soured them on the festival.

    “Personally, I’m one of those who embrace it all. I do it full on and I love it,” she said.

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