In 1981, actor Robert Redford invited a small group of friends and colleagues to a picturesque location at the top of Provo Canyon to discuss the art and craft of independent filmmaking. The seeds planted at that gathering have grown into an iconic institution with significant cultural and economic impacts.
This year’s Sundance Film Festival contributed $86.4 million to the state’s economy, according to research conducted for Sundance Institute by the University of Utah’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research. The number is not an anomaly: the festival has brought in an average of $74 million for each of the past five years, and has created about 1,500 jobs annually.
Every January, Utah plays host to many celebrities, plus leaders in culture and business (and even some would-be political leaders). According to the impact analysis, the journalists covering the event this year generated about $65 million in free publicity. In the last five years, a total of more than 225,000 people have attended festival events. Approximately 69 percent of festival attendees come from outside the state.
Utah’s association with the festival has had a large influence on what marketing professionals would call the state’s “brand image.” Sundance has endowed Utah with an aura of a place that is hip and artsy — something for which the state may not previously have been known. This provides many with a measure of civic pride. And considerable benefits inure to the travel, tourism and hospitality industries.
Speaking at a November event to honor Redford and the film festival, Gov. Gary Herbert said of Redford: "I think we take him for granted. He’s been here for so long, and he’s been so successful. It’s really quite remarkable, and yet he calls Utah home. I’m appreciative of that. I think Utah is a better place because Robert Redford does call Utah home."
Also at the event, James Redford said of his father: "The love he has for Utah, I have to say, it's visceral, it's primal and deeply personal."
More than just the film festival, Sundance’s presence has helped inspire a growing community of local filmmakers — including the Park City Film Studio set to debut in the fall — and has been influential in the process of luring major production companies to choose Utah locales for movie settings.
The Sundance Film Festival is a signal event showcasing much of what Utah has to offer to visitors and to those who call Utah home. Yet even as we applaud the festival’s successes, we note our wish that festival organizers and filmmakers reflect on and communicate the appreciation that they have for the values and traditions that their host state of Utah offers to the rest of the world.