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Red Card Roberts: Sundance subsidies

The festival is probably the only reason a lot of us finally got our garbage collected last week.

Park Record columnist Amy Roberts.

When it comes to Sundance, Parkites tend to fall decidedly into one of two camps: Love it or hate it. You’d be hard pressed to find a local who shrugs their shoulders and convincingly says, “Sundance? I don’t really have an opinion on the matter.”

Over the years I have ebbed and flowed across the Sundance spectrum. My first few years in Park City, there was something magical about living in a small mountain town that hosted such a big event. Bragging rights and excitement formed the most perfect union. In the early 2000s, the event followed the town’s trajectory and seemingly exploded into a see-and-be-seen destination where only the bougiest survived. Main Street became a chameleon, changing overnight from quaint downtown to paparazzi ground zero and a parking lot for media satellite trucks. Those years, the VIP parties received more buzz than the films.

In the late teens of the 2000s (which is an odd way of suggesting somewhere between 2017 and 2019), the pendulum swayed mildly back toward a film-first, or at least film-acknowledged event — forced perhaps by 2016’s infamous #Choppergate. That was the year Uber announced it had created an on-demand helicopter service for Sundance celebrities and planned to chopper the stars wherever they needed to go in Park City. But the company failed to apply for the required permits and didn’t quite understand that local land use ordinances were not mere suggestions. Lawyers got involved. So did the sheriff and a judge. It was quite the standoff for a few days. That seemed to be the year even the most ardent Sundancers agreed that perhaps it was time to dial it back.



Despite efforts to do so, the don’t you know who I am? crowd still came — and even with a hiatus over the last few years, it seems as though they returned this year. These are the people usually dressed head-to-toe in black, who cluelessly dart across a busy road in the middle of the night, the glow of their cigarette the only source of reflection. Or those who wear their lanyards like status symbol, likely not even removing them to shower. And the people walking up and down Main Street wearing miniskirts and attempting to climb over snowbanks in their six-inch heels. Or the people furiously punching keys on a cell phone, looking about as frantic as a pack of rats in a burning meth lab.

They all returned. And, anecdotally at least, I’d venture to say they all rented vehicles and were contractually obligated to burn through a tank of gas every day — even if doing so required them to drive in circles for hours. For impossibly in-demand people working on a tight deadline, efficiency seems to be surprisingly low on the priority list.



Most of us moved to the mountains to get away from that type of grind, so it can be difficult to understand the appeal of this fast-paced, hyperactive lifestyle. Frankly, I’ve seen more relaxed people in an electric chair. If nothing else, the 11 days of Sundance makes me grateful I did not pursue a career as a publicist. But it does make me grateful to live here.

I know the festival is hardly convenient — the traffic, the egos, the chaos. But the on the other side of that are some significant benefits that make the other 355 days of living in Park City pretty unbeatable. There’s the economic bump to local businesses to the tune of an estimated $150 million, free year-round transportation, low taxes, and amenities we couldn’t fund without the festival. If nothing else, this year’s Sundance Film Festival is probably the only reason a lot of us finally got our garbage collected last week.

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