Boycott Sundance? Gays say no

Greg Marshall, Of the Record staff

A civil rights group based in Salt Lake City urged opponents of California’s now-infamous gay marriage ban to attend the Sundance Film Festival rather than boycott it.

"We don’t need people to stay away from Utah," said Mike Thompson, executive director of Equality Utah. "We need gay people to come to Utah."

During a press conference held in Salt Lake City on Nov. 10, organizers pressed the LDS Church to join them in supporting legislation for medical care, housing and employment for same-sex couples that some church officials have gone on record as supporting.

Utah Sen. Scott McCoy, who is openly gay, said in the conference that while Proposition 8 has created a divide, the organization is looking for ways to bridge the gap between gay and straight people in the state, and that the LDS Church could play a lead role in redress. "I take the LDS Church leaders at their word that they are not anti-gay and that they sincerely understand that gay and transgender individuals are in need of certain legal protections and basic benefits," he said.

Thompson praised Sundance as a diverse venue that can help bring about change. "Sundance, besides the film fest, is a wonderful showcase of Utah, our progressive side, our artsy side," he said. "There are different ways to bring change. We hope to bring about change through engagement."

With little more than two months until the Sundance Film Festival, organizers are training volunteers, vetting thousands of submissions and preparing special events for the independent film fest that runs in Park City from Jan. 15 until the 25th.

But it has hardly been business as usual this week at Sundance headquarters at Silver Star.

The festival finds itself at the center of a political controversy that organizers say has little to do with them.

"Boycott Sundance" has been on the lips of some civil rights activists and bloggers in California and Washington, D.C., who blame the Mormon Church for propping up the now infamous gay-marriage ban that passed in California last week.

Opponents of the legislation believe the church poured money into the campaign and supported its passage. They are calling for tourists to snub local ski resorts and specifically mentioned staying home from Sundance as a way to hurt the economy in Utah, the home of the LDS faith.

What started as murmurs in the blogosphere has attracted national attention, and while few expect the boycott to have a major impact on Sundance, it has raised eyebrows in town.

"Essentially, it would be a grave disappointment if the festival were to be singled out," Brooks Addicott, a spokeswoman for Sundance, said Monday. "We have always championed the idea of independent voices."

Selections for this year’s festival will not be announced until December, but Addicott said that she expected the usual mix of diversity in January.

The 125 films screened each year represent 30 countries and cover a range of social issues, including some gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues, according to Addicott. "People come to the festival from all walks of life, from all over the world," she said. "We see ourselves as being more relevant than ever."

The festival isn’t just relevant for industry insiders, though. In 2008, the festival generated more than $63 million for the state in lodging, meals, car rentals and other travel expenses. The vast majority of that revenue, about $57 million, is generated in the county. About 40,000 tourists from out-of-state come to the festival every year.

Statewide economic activity during Sundance:

Total Economic Activity: $63,375,579

Lodging: $31,667,218

Meals: $13,206,495

Car Rental: $2,854,495

Other Transportation: $2,766,389

Other Purchases: $12,883,592

Total attendance: 45,056

Utah Residents: 14,373

Non-Utah Residents: 31,719

Summit County economic activity during Sundance:

Total Economic Activity: $57,005,325

Lodging: $ 29,586,501

Meals: $ 11,559,827

Car Rental: $ 2,566,446

Other Transportation: $ 2,356,804

Other Purchases: $ 10,935,747

Total attendance: 37,303

Utah Residents: 28,126

Non-Utah Residents: 9,177

the numbers:

6 The number of days the average Summit County attendee spends at the festival

$1,528.17 The amount of money the average Summit County Festival attendee spends during their stay, not including airfare.

68.1% Number of festival guests who come from outside of Utah, including 1,036 international visitors.

80% of attendees indicated they would visit Park City for tourism outside of the festival, and of these 44 percent plan to return in the spring and summer months.


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