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Sundance hikes prices

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

Sundance Film Festival organizers, claiming that it is more expensive than before to stage the annual extravaganza, hiked the price of most movie tickets for the 2007 festival, adding another $5 to each ticket.

Sundance plans to charge $15 per ticket, up from the $10 it has cost for each ticket since 2003. The increase does not apply to tickets sold to people in wait-list lines or those sold at the door.

"It’s been quite a number of years since we increased our ticket prices," says Jill Miller, the managing director of the Sundance Institute.

Miller expects that the $5 increase will not hurt local sales. She says that Sundance expects that lots of Parkites will purchase tickets to the festival, scheduled Jan. 18-28, and says that the price of most ticket packages was not increased.

She says Sundance remains priced better than other top-tier film festivals in North America, such as those in Toronto and Telluride, Colo., and that festival-goers are usually treated to a Sundance-only experience, like question-and-answer sessions with filmmakers and casts after many of the screenings.

"We don’t look at it as going to a multiplex down the street," Miller says, calling Sundance "incredibly competitive" with the prices at other famous festivals.

In 2003, the organizers priced all movie tickets at $10. Before 2003, Sundance charged different prices depending on the films. Under the scrapped tier system, regular screenings cost $8 and premiers were set at $10. The premiers have remained at $10 since 1985, she says.

Miller says that Sundance needs more money from ticket sales to offset expenses. She notes that Sundance is paying more for transportation, gasoline and projection equipment, for instance, and that Sundance purchased a new ticketing system.

"We have not passed those costs onto the consumer" until the upcoming festival, she says, adding that the $15 price will not "significantly increase" Sundance’s revenue.

The new price comes as Sundance enjoys widened popularity. The 2006 festival drew 52,850 people and generated $61.5 million in economic activity in Utah, the organizers reported in April.

Sundance, trying to accommodate demand for tickets, has added screenings at the Racquet Club, which seats 602 people per screening, and in 2007 plans to hold public screenings for the first time at Redstone 8 Cinemas.

The $15 price has not received widespread publicity locally but Sundance fans in Park City usually closely monitor ticketing procedures, such as the changeover from first-come, first-served sales to a random drawing for sales times.

Meanwhile, organizers of the Slamdance Film Festival, held at the same time as Sundance, report that ticket prices will increase by $1 for 2007, to $11. Utahns, though, will pay $8.50 for a feature screening, also up $1.

The Sundance prices trail those of the Telluride Film Festival, in Telluride, Colo., where tickets are $20 and have been for several years, an official there says.

At the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, officials say that regular showings in 2006 were priced at $12. Prices increased slightly between 2005 and 2006. Prices are not set for the 2007 edition, scheduled in April, the festival says.

Sundance, which is the signature event on Park City’s calendar, is seen as the top marketplace of independent films in the U.S. and one of the most renown internationally, producing box-office hits like "Napoleon Dynamite," "Super Size Me" and "The Blair Witch Project."

But tickets for film-goers not connected to the industry are notoriously scarce and there are usually lots of complaints that people are unable to get tickets. In recent years, the tickets have fetched many times their face value on Internet auction houses and elsewhere.

Sundance is scheduled to hold Utah-only ticket sales on Jan. 6-7 and tickets will be sold nationally the following week. Utahns must register on Sundance’s Internet site Dec. 11-29 to qualify for the early sales dates.

Miller says the festival’s budget is approximately $8 million and sponsors fund much of the cost. The festival is Sundance’s primary fundraiser and some of the revenue is earmarked for other programs, like filmmaker labs and community programs, she says.

She does not expect that the price increase will hurt local ticket sales.

"We are not anticipating that," she says. "We hope they will see the value of what we’re delivering."


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