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Sundance wants YOU

ANNA BLOOM, Of the Record staff

There is one month left to sign up as volunteers at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, and organizers hope to welcome many more Parkites to the behind-the-festival scenes.

"My favorite new blood is the Parkites, because this is your festival and you should be a part of it," insists Dianne Browning, the festival’s volunteer and training manager.

Each year, the demand for volunteers evolves and increases in size. Whether it’s part-time or full-time, a backbone 1,500 volunteers donning the Kenneth Cole uniform will be needed to grease the wheels of the upcoming film festival standing at bus stops, film screenings and filmmakers’ lounges. And as Browning is discovering in her new role at the festival, those most familiar with the festival and its locale are the most helpful. They’re the ones who know the back-alley routes and where the ATMs and nearest restrooms are located. They’re the ones, therefore, she’d like to recruit.

The volunteer who has racked up the most Sundance Film Festivals has attended 23 festivals and has engineered a system that allows him to see 30 films each year at Sundance. Browning says he’s a filmmaker himself and makes the trek east from Los Angeles year after year.

People volunteer for various reasons, including making life-long friends who request to be in the same volunteer team, year after year. Browning, is meeting the enthusiastic veterans over multiple phone and e-mails. Since she was hired in May, a good portion of her day is dedicated to communicating with the old hands — learning their stories, e-mailing biweekly newsletters and fielding their questions or concerns. Many volunteers come in husband-wife and mother-daughter teams, taking time off work to make it to the festival.

"The energy from the volunteers is contagious," Browning says. "What’s so great is volunteers are so open to sharing experiences with me. I learn a lot."

As Browning explains, she has a particular passion for "matching resources with needs." She has worked for the Red Cross in disaster relief, and from 2003 to 2005 she helped Sudanese refugees for the International Rescue Committee, an organization, that helped to support filming for the Sundance Film Festival documentary "God Grew Tired of Us," about the Lost Boys of Sudan.

Now a mother of twins, Browning has settled somewhat, taking a job in the United States. But she is cautious about being too comfortable at the moment the festival hasn’t happened yet. Browning doesn’t plan on sleeping much, advising those thinking of volunteering at the festival to "sleep beforehand."

Perks of volunteering include a new jacket, access to the volunteer villa, coffee talks and happy hours and a film voucher for every four hours of volunteering (usually a volunteer screens up to a dozen, according to Browning.) However, the greater reward is the friends made and the feeling of giving back to the festival, Browning says. Though she’s new to her role, Browning knows the drill: before she managed and trained, she was a festival volunteer herself a greeter at the Sundance House.

"It was chaotic, exciting and hard work, but at the end of my shift, I had this sense of accomplishment," she remembers. "At the end of the day, it’s really about promoting independent voices through film and about art and about contributing to something you believe in."

Apply to volunteer at the Sundance Film Festival by logging onto www2.sundance.org/volunteer. Contact the Sundance Institute by calling (435) 658-3456.


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