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Navigating the content at the Sundance Film Festival

Published: Thursday, Jan. 17 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

Lindsey Robinson and Philip Craig, both seniors at American Fork High School, wait to see the Sundance Film Festival documentary "5 Broken Cameras" at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 27, 2012.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

PARK CITY — Kathy Anderson has no complaints.

For the past three years, Anderson, the Canyons School District director of partnerships and community services, has taken hundreds of high school students to Sundance Film Festival venues to screen documentaries and participate in question-and-answer sessions with independent filmmakers.

The films are pre-approved for appropriate content and the students obtain parental permission.

It's been a great partnership, Anderson said.

"The films are not rated," she said. "We rely heavily on them and they have not disappointed us."

For those content-conscious patrons who want to attend the Sundance Film Festival (Jan. 17-27) but can't rely upon the ratings system as a reference (Sundance films do not carry Motion Picture Association of America designations), the High School Screening Series is a good option.

Since 2000, the Sundance Institute has worked with several local school districts to give more than 5,000 teenage students a year the chance to attend special screenings of festival entries, typically documentaries, free of charge. The films are pre-screened by Sundance to ensure appropriate and engaging content for school audiences. For parents who have questions beyond the film descriptions and notes, Sundance has a customer service team and additional film information on its website, www.sundance.org.

"We take great care in making sure everything that we program for high school screenings is appropriate. We're pretty upfront with what's in the film so they can make the best decision for their students," said Meredith Lavitt, director of the film forward initiative for Sundance Institute. "The goal of the high school screenings is to expose and introduce the students to independent filmmaking, the art and the storytelling of independent film. We also look at films ... that we feel would be engaging for a high school audience."

Lavitt said students especially enjoy the unique chance to interact with the filmmakers after seeing the film. These sessions are also a treat for the artists, she said.

"Many come back and say it was the most incredible experience," Lavitt said. "These students have pure and honest questions, no festival agenda. They are not part of the film industry, they are not worried about how much it cost to make the film, or know whether it will play for the mainstream. They are asking questions based on the content of the film."

The Utah High School Screening Series will show films on weekdays at three locations: Rose Wagner Theater in Salt Lake City, Peery's Egyptian Theater in Ogden and Redstone Cinemas in Park City. The program is made possible by financial support from local sponsors such as Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts and Parks.

"It’s a one-of-a-kind opportunity in Utah to see films and meet filmmakers from all over the world," Lavitt said.

SUNDANCE FILMS FOR STUDENTS: Sundance 2013 at the Utah High School Screening Series:

  • "Ain't Them Bodies Saint"
  • "Austenland"
  • "Blackfish"
  • "Blood Brother"
  • "Google and the World Brain"
  • "Inequality for All"
  • "Life According to Sam"
  • "Linsanity"
  • "Pandora's Promise"
  • "The Crash Reel"
  • "The Summit"

Other 2013 films recommended by Sundance as family-friendly and teen-focused:

  • "The Moo Man"
  • "Muscle Shoals"
  • "No"
  • "A River Changes Course"
  • "Salma"
  • "Twenty Feet from Stardom"
  • "The Way, Way Back"
  • "When I Walk"
  • "Primate Cinema: Apes as Family"
  • "The Secret of Trees"
  • "Thank You"
  • "You Don't Know Jack"

Email: ttoone@desnews.com Twitter: tbtoone

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