Sundance Film Festival filmmakers visit Park City High School
Students fill the Park City High School auditorium, eyes locked on the screen ahead of them. It’s silent during the film and it’s silent after as the students try to digest what they’ve just viewed. Then, the director steps up to the microphone.
Not every film in the Filmmakers in the Classroom program is as thought-provoking as others, but each of the films leaves some kind of impression on the students during the Sundance Film Festival.
The program, which is put together by a combined effort from the Park City Institute and the Sundance Institute, introduces high school and Treasure Mountain Junior High students to Sundance films and filmmakers. Teachers of all subjects sign up for a short film for their students to watch and, after the viewing, someone involved with the film speaks with the students during a question-and-answer session.
Teri Orr, executive director of the Park City Institute, said that the program has taken place for 20 years, and 15 screenings served a couple thousand students during the festival this year.
Orr said that both the students and the filmmakers walk away learning from the experience. Filmmakers frequently remark how much they enjoy the opportunity, she said.
“They will often say that this is the most meaningful part of what happens at Sundance for them,” she said. “They are getting honest feedback and they are getting it unfiltered.”
Randall Christopher, director of the film “The Driver is Red,” showed his film about a true story in which secret agent Zvi Aharoni hunts down a high-ranking Nazi war criminal. He said that he loved being able to hear from the students because of the honest interaction he had with them.
“They are really curious,” he said. “They ask some of the best questions.”
After showing “The Driver is Red,” Christopher led a discussion about the history behind the film and discussed the anti-Semitic rhetoric taking place before and during the Holocaust. In one of his screenings, a student asked about how those sentiments relate to current events.
Students such as Anna Behrens, a senior, said that she enjoyed seeing and discussing each of the films she saw this year with the program. She saw three, including “The Driver is Red.”
“It’s an educational experience, but more in a unique and fun way rather than sitting in a classroom and learning from lectures,” she said.
She said that if it were not for the program, she would probably not have seen the Sundance films. Because of the crowds and difficulty getting tickets, she tends to steer clear of the festival.
“This is something I would never have experienced otherwise,” she said.
Providing new opportunities is one of the reasons Orr and Jaimie Atlas Mitchell, student outreach coordinator for the Park City Institute, love putting on the program each year.
Not only do students get to see the films, they hear the stories behind them, all the way from the conception of the ideas for the films to the struggles of making them. Plus, Atlas Mitchell said, they are able to learn about storytelling and how to tell their own stories.
“This gets served to students in a pretty wonderful way,” Orr said.
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The Park City Board of Education is on track to place a bond on the ballot this fall to improve district facilities. The top priorities would be to put ninth grade in the high school, eighth grade in the middle school and to augment preschool offerings by expanding elementary schools.