Sundance moves forward, but is it too big?
Diane Foster, the Park City manager, had a few unscheduled minutes during the Sundance Film Festival to chat with the festival’s founder.
Foster and Robert Redford ran into each other at a luncheon celebrating women in leadership. Foster took the opportunity to talk to Redford about this year’s festival, telling him it seemed Sundance worked well in 2016.
"The festival has been going really well. I appreciate the partnership," Foster said about the brief talk.
But Redford told her he was "wondering if it’s getting too big," according to Foster.
Redford made comments to the media about the size of Sundance, widely seen as the top marketplace of independent films in the U.S. and one of the most important festivals on the world circuit.
According to the Associated Press, Redford said he has heard "negative comments about how crowded it is and how difficult it is to get from venue to venue when there’s traffic and people in the streets and so forth." He also said the festival crowds and development in Park City grew over the years. Redford said there are choices like ending the festival or making changes such as splitting Sundance into two runs, one in January and one in February, according to the Associated Press.
Foster said City Hall does not see Sundance as having become too large. She said officials are aware of the impact on the community, but Sundance is also part of Park City’s brand as a tourism destination.
She said Sundance organizers have not broached the idea with City Hall of splitting the festival into two segments like Redford described.
"It is a really big film festival and we handle it really well," Foster said.
Sundance has held the event in Park City since the 1980s, bringing large January crowds as both the festival and Park City boomed in the 1990s and the 2000s. There have long been complaints about traffic and parking shortages during Sundance, but the festival is also the most lucrative event on Park City’s calendar.
City Hall and festival organizers in 2013 reached an agreement keeping Sundance in Park City until at least 2026. Sundance also keeps its Utah offices in Park City. Park City officials and Sundance organizers annually discuss operational changes to the festival, but a change as dramatic as the one mentioned by Redford would likely require renegotiating the overall deal, if it is someday pursued.
Nancy Garrison, a member of a Sundance Utah Advisory Board who lives in the Snyderville Basin, said the 2016 festival was a "fantastic experience." She said the Utah Advisory Board has not discussed a change like the one Redford described, adding that the festival has "evolved dramatically since its early days" and it could be difficult for the founder to witness the changes.
"The festival just delivers so much for the guests, for our artists," Garrison said.
Sundance organizers released a prepared statement late in the week indicating operations are continually considered.
"The festival’s audience has grown significantly over the past three decades, which speaks to the power of Robert Redford’s original vision that audiences were hungry for new ideas. Sundance Institute and the town of Park City work year-round to provide a positive experience for our attendees. We continue to face challenges posed by ambush marketers unaffiliated with the festival and whose presence places additional strain on both the festival and city. We modify and improve our operations every year and will continue to do so going forward," the statement said.
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