Sundance festival makes big economic impact

Published: Tuesday, May 17 2011 4:09 p.m. MDT

PARK CITY — The 2011 Sundance Film Festival had a $70 million economic impact on Utah — including $5.9 million in tax revenue — according to a report released Tuesday by the Sundance Institute.

The annual event, held in January for 10 days in Park City, Ogden, Salt Lake City and at the Sundance Resort, brings a tourism boom and world-wide media attention to the state. According to the report — conducted by the University of Utah's Bureau of Economic and Business Research —  an estimated 45,797 people attended the 2011 festival, up 11 percent from 2010. Of that number, 30,596 came from outside of Utah.

Those tourists spent more than $54 million on lodging, meals, recreation and other local businesses during the festival.

Researchers also found the 2011 festival also supported more 1,600 jobs, a figure that does not include another 1,600 festival volunteers.

"It does not work without the volunteers," said Brooks Addicott, Sundance Institute director of media relations.

Addicott said 58 percent of festival volunteers were local Utahns, with the remainder coming from as far away as Slovenia and Brazil and at least one couple who volunteered during their honeymoon.

In addition to Sundance Institute jobs, Addicott said there are a number of entities not affiliated with the festival — such as caterers and drivers — that bring extra employment opportunities into the state as a result of the festival.

"We have no way of tracking that," she said. "That (employment) figure is probably not as high as it could be."

Utah was officially named the festival's host state this year, Addicott said. Over the years both citizens of Utah and elected officials have been supportive of the event, she said, and naming Utah as host state was just one way of acknowledging that support.

"It's exciting for us," she said. "The state gives us visibility and a platform."

Spencer Eccles, executive director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development said last year's festival generated around $61 million. Those figures, he said, are a measure of dollars coming into the state economy.

Eccles said the state committed $300,000 to the festival as part of the host state designation. Those funds came in the form of tax incentives via the Motion Picture Incentive Fund and through state entities like the Utah Office of Tourism.

The festival, Eccles said, fits Gov. Gary Herbert's vision of Utah having a nationally and internationaly competitive economy and being a destination for business and tourism.

"Sundance is a brand in and of itself," Eccles said. "It's an international event. We view Sundance as a component to the overarching economic activities we do."

With the economic impact involved and by drawing such a large number of outside visitors in such a short period, there are few events in the state that can compare in terms of tourism visibility and state impact.

"It is the premiere film festival in the United States and we happen to have it in our state," said Marshall Moore, Utah Film Commission director.

The Utah Film Commission has been a festival sponsor since the early days of Sundance and the organization was involved in this year's host state designation as well as hosting the Filmaker's Brunch. Moore said one hope with the festival is that filmmakers will return to Utah for future projects. Since 2004, he said, the state has had an incentive program for filmmakers, offering tax refunds for production money spent in Utah.

In 2010, Moore said, 19 films that took advantage of the state's tax incentive, the highest number of any year.

In the past, Moore said filmmakers viewed Park City as a sort of soveriegn entity not associated with Utah. As the festival has expanded into venues around northern Utah, that image has changed.

"It puts us on the map," Moore said. "They've spread out from Park City. Culturally, it's certainly broadened our view."

In addition to an increase in festival attendance, the BEBR report found the total spending of festival attendees increased 18 percent compared with 2010. The average spending per person at the 2011 festival was $1,279.39.

E-mail: benwood@desnews.com

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