It was/is Uber fun
January 15, 2016
It was a long time ago in a festival far, far away but we were Uber. The event eventually became the one that opens this week known as the Sundance Film Festival, but it once was the US Film and Video Festival. Almost no one came…back in the 80s. But the couple of hundred folks who did were a huge boon to the town. And we learned, all those years before World Cups and Olympics and endless summer events, we learned how to be good hosts to our guests.
One of the things the Chamber and City Hall encouraged us to do was to pick up visitors who might need a ride from one venue to the next. Things weren’t very clear with those old schedules, and venues were in historic buildings with funny names and failing hotels and aged city buildings and the like. It cost 25 cents to ride the bus that didn’t run on time to not very many places in town. There were no cabs, let alone transportation companies. So regular folks were encouraged to offer strangers rides in their cars to move them from one part of town to another. And we did. Of course it was easy to pick out the guests. They didn’t dress for the weather or the steep hills or the soggy streets that got plowed only occasionally.
It was kind of fun seeing folks looking lost where they thought a bus might pick them up (there were no shelters then). Or just looking forlornly for a nonexistent cab, standing with umbrellas — umbrellas! — in the front of the hotel. We’d drive by and see them and slow down and throw extra jackets/newspapers/kids shoes/books/toys/aside and offer them a ride. They were too cold, disoriented, elated to wonder why this was happening. We’d ask where they were headed. There would be muddled expressions of "the park silver mountain something something" where a movie was showing. And we’d ask the film (and since there were so few then) and we’d say, oh-that’s in the Elks Club, or the Lodge or the Barn or any other places known by nicknames, and we’d drive them there.
They would offer to pay, of course, as strangers from Big Cities do, and we’d smile and say, "glad to have you visiting." No, we really did say that. And yes, we really were glad. It made us feel so much bigger and grander for a few days. Like part of something larger than our small town. If only for a while. And as far as the glamour part went, other than Bob Redford, who ate at Cafe Terigo and wandered around town after skiing sometimes, there weren’t any recognizable celebrities for a very, very, very long time.
We couldn’t ask Siri who starred in "sex, lies and videotape," because neither had been created yet. Nor could we have a debate about "Reservoir Dogs" and easily learn what else the young Quentin Tarantino had done because we could not access Google. It didn’t exist. We would, instead, have long debates about Jonathan Demme’s debut of "Melvin and Howard," with Demme himself in front of the fireplace, at the Yarrow/Holiday Inn (now Doubletree Hotel). It was a no-host conversation.
I continue to be convinced the most educated, sophisticated audience for independent film — in the world — are about 70 folks who have lived in Park City since the early 80s. They have seen hundreds of strange, quirky films that never saw general distribution, nor should they have. We were also the first audiences to wildly applaud "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and more serious documentaries than anyone can count. Personally speaking, it set me on a course to consider stories and realities I had never put in my wheelhouse until a film set me up to wonder/question why I had never considered the topic before.
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As the festival grew and needed more volunteers than the handful of folks who had free time who lived here could provide, we started meeting new faces from people the world over, who loved films and wanted to come pay their own way and work long hours in the cold to guide people into theaters and out of parking lots, all to earn that free jacket. And… to meet new friends. So now we have a kind of summer camp reunion that happens each January with folks who have been volunteering for a decade or two. Who take their vacation time from other jobs to work this one. Who have made friendships with Parkites and exchanged homes and family photos and sent sympathy cards when a loved one passed on.
We are connected now by cell phones and internet and quick messaging systems. There are apps to help guests figure out not only where films are playing but if there are any tickets available for the previously sold-out ones. There are giant venues created to offer us emerging and iconic music and new virtual realities and all manner of things to stretch us and nicely mess with our heads. The Festival has become a two-week period where we are the center of The Industry and the new, the cutting edge and quirky, the thought-provoking and the funny (yes, there are funny Sundance films) all happen here in our backyard.
As for me, I’ll try to remember to toss the extra newspapers and empty bags and books out of the car at night and make room to be open to offer some wayward soul a ride across town. It can be uber-fun to meet new folks that way. And it helps me remember how exciting it can be to discover Park City through the kindness of a stranger. Any day, really, including this very Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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