Sundance loses key cast member
Sarah Pearce, crucial to festival operations, departs in March
The Sundance Film Festival in coming weeks will lose one of the key members of its cast.
Sarah Pearce, the managing director of the Sundance Institute and a crucial figure in the relationship between festival organizers and Park City leaders, will depart on March 10. She has been involved with Sundance in some capacity for most of the past 18 years. She will be retained as a consultant for at least three months and is also pursuing another position in the arts and culture field in Utah.
“Sundance and Park City have kind of grown up together in a way,” Pearce said, recalling that the festival and the community were small and fledgling in the early years.
Pearce is responsible for overseeing the Utah operations of the film festival, a critical role that involves a wide range of duties. Pearce and the staffers in the Utah headquarters at Silver Star are heavily involved in preparing the mechanics of the festival, negotiating with City Hall each year as the festival footprint is set and crafting the logistical plans for Park City’s largest special event.
She started at Sundance as a volunteer in 1999 and eventually was hired as a full-time staffer, working her way to the operations director position before leaving Sundance for two years in 2005. She returned as the director of operations two years later, became the co-managing director in 2013 and eventually was named the managing director.
The managing director typically works behind the scenes during the 11-day festival itself, but it is a high-profile position at other points of the year. Pearce regularly appeared at the Marsac Building on behalf of Sundance as festival operations were debated by city leaders.
Pearce, notably, was the pivotal Sundance staffer involved in the negotiations with City Hall that led to a long-term agreement to continue to hold the festival in Park City. The deal, reached in 2013, keeps the festival in the community through at least 2026. Sundance in the agreement made the important concession of slightly shifting the dates of the festival in the years the event overlaps with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a move sought by the ski industry to clear the calendar for the three-day weekend. Dana Williams, the mayor at the time the deal was reached, told Pearce as the agreement was finalized she was instrumental in the negotiations.
“Everyone came to the table with honesty and integrity,” Pearce said about the agreement, adding that the deal was a “win-win for everyone.”
Pearce said the festival continues to fit in Park City even amid some concerns in the community that the crowds and traffic have become overwhelming. Sundance, she said, “adds to the fabric of the community.” She noted Sundance generates significant economic activity and spotlights the state.
Pearce, who is 53 years old and lives in Holladay, recalls with fondness the co-workers at Sundance over the years. She said her favorite festival entries were “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Songcatcher” and former Vice President Al Gore’s sequel to “An Inconvenient Truth.” She recalls meeting Gore in January, meeting Malia Obama, daughter of former President Obama, last month as well and meeting U2 singer Bono when he was at Sundance for the premiere of a 3-D concert film by the band in 2008.
Keri Putnam, the executive director of Sundance, praised Pearce’s work in a memo to institute staffers announcing the departure.
“Sarah’s contributions to Sundance have been extraordinary. Her supportive leadership, passion for finding solutions, dedication to the institute’s mission and commitment to doing what’s right stand out to me among many things I love about working with Sarah. It’s been inspiring to see the festival team operate so beautifully and collaboratively during both good and challenging times. Sarah’s guiding hand and attention to process and detail as a leader set this tone, and it distinguishes our organization; I know we will honor her work by continuing in this spirit,” Putnam said in the memo.
Betsy Wallace, who is now the chief financial officer at Sundance, will become the managing director as well as continuing to serve in the financial post.
Park City is considering adding another legacy project that would mark the community’s role in the 2002 Winter Olympics.