Sundance looks for Racquet Club replacement |

Sundance looks for Racquet Club replacement

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

Sundance Film Festival organizers have acknowledged they are seeking another place to show films during the 2011 edition of the festival as a replacement for the Racquet Club should the Park Meadows facility be under construction in January.

In an interview, though, a high-ranking Sundance official declined to detail the locations that the organizers have researched as potential new screening rooms. Sarah Pearce, who directs the festival’s operations and is a key figure in theater decisions, said enough study has been conducted that a decision can be made later in the year.

Pearce, though, said there would be fewer of the prized film tickets in circulation under any of the alternate scenarios. The screening room in the Racquet Club gymnasium is the second-largest of Sundance’s Park City theaters. It holds 602 seats, trailing only the capacity of the Eccles Center of the local theaters.

"It’s a problem because we’ll lose slots for programming and tickets for locals and visitors alike," Pearce said in an interview, adding that, "for one year, we’ll be OK."

Pearce and other Sundance officials addressed Mayor Dana Williams and the Park City Council recently as part of an annual review of the operations of the January festival. The Racquet Club was briefly addressed, with Jon Weidenhamer, a City Hall staffer involved in Sundance issues, saying the renovation of the Park Meadows facility should interfere with one festival.

City Hall is preparing to start an ambitious redo of the Racquet Club, with the work starting as early as midsummer. Mayor Dana Williams and the Park City Council, who have already set aside money for the $10.5 million project, will be asked to reaffirm the funding during this spring’s budget talks.

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The gymnasium is the only section of the Racquet Club that will remain standing under the renovation blueprints. The construction occurring all around the gymnasium, though, will stop Sundance from using the space for a screening room. Organizers expect to return to the venue after the work is finished, probably for the 2012 festival.

The Racquet Club is a busy Sundance theater, showing five screenings each day. It was added to the festival lineup in 2005 as the most significant new Sundance theater since the Eccles Center debuted in the 1990s.

In a report submitted to City Hall, Sundance officials say they are "very concerned about losing Racquet Club." The report said "there aren’t any good alternative venues to replace this ‘in-town’ 600-seat theatre."

Several highly controversial films have screened at the Racquet Club, notably "Hounddog" for a rape scene involving underage actress Dakota Fanning in 2007 and 2010’s "8: The Mormon Proposition" for its portrayal of the role of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the passage of a California ballot measure against gay marriage. A screening of the documentary about the California ballot measure prompted a demonstration outside the Racquet Club against the Mormon Church involving a few dozen people.

The screening room at the Racquet Club, meanwhile, continues to draw scattered complaints from a few people who live close to the facility.

Sundance officials had hoped to present an annual report about the economic impact of the festival this year during the recent meeting, but the numbers had not been calculated yet. The report will be submitted to City Hall later.

Another discussion between the elected officials and the Sundance side is expected later in the year, once the festival organizers finalize their operational plans for 2011. They normally make tweaks to the festival, but the plans for 2011 could include more substantial alterations to address the loss of the Racquet Club if the renovation is underway.

The 2011 festival is scheduled to run from Jan. 20 until Jan. 30.

Sundance is widely considered to be the top marketplace for independent films in the U.S. and one of the most highly regarded festivals on the international circuit. Some of the films that have shown at Sundance in recent years and later became hits include "The Blair Witch Project," "Super Size Me," "An Inconvenient Truth" and "Little Miss Sunshine."