Lauren Andersen loves the Sundance Film Festival so much she’s made the 90-mile round-trip drive to Park City every day during the event for the past seven years. But it is not to see the celebrities or get the swag — it is to volunteer and watch the movies.
Andersen still recalls her first year volunteering. She was a bit nervous and didn’t know what to expect. The snow-covered town was filled with traffic, there were people buzzing up and down Main Street and there was a party atmosphere.
“It feels like you are in New York, because it is so packed with people,” Andersen said.
Despite all the unknowns and questions, by the end of the festival she was saying, “I have got to do this again.”
She quickly learned there was someone to get to know around every corner.
“As the week progressed there were so many nice people,” Andersen said. “It just felt so comfortable and so fun that you just relaxed and enjoyed yourself.”
Now in her eighth year, the 57-year-old mom from Centerville says she continues to help out with the festival because “it makes me feel like a kid again, I guess.”
The part-time hospitality volunteer also enjoys being around all the excitement and “the experience of meeting new people and going to the movies.”
Every year she has volunteered as a door greeter at the Sundance House or the Kimball Art Center.
Over the years she has seen stars including Jennifer Aniston, Dennis Hopper, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley and Kevin Bacon, but her most memorable run-in with a celebrity was the time she met John Malkovich, who is one of her favorite actors.
Andersen and a group of other volunteers were taking pictures of themselves and goofing around inside the Turning Leaf Lounge venue when Malkovich came over and started joking with them.
“He was very nice, he was laughing at some things going on,” Andersen recalls.
She said meeting him was a “fun and “different” experience because she got tell him how much she enjoyed his movies.
“I’m not used to being around celebrities,” Andersen said. “It is a lot of good energy.”
She has saved worn ticket stubs, books from many of the films, complementary Kenneth Cole jackets and other mementos.
Andersen is just one of 1,860 volunteers who assist with the festival each year.
Becoming a volunteer involves a selection process that starts in the summer.
Emily Aagaard, manager of volunteers for the Sundance Institute said that each year she sifts through about 3,000 applicants and interviews potential candidates. Depending on their job duties, a volunteer’s training lasts from 15 minutes to four hours. Aagaard has been a manager for four years, but previously was a volunteer helping people get on shuttle buses.
“It wasn’t very glamorous, but I liked it,” Aagaard said.
Many of the jobs aren’t glamorous. They include taking tickets, selling merchandise, helping at the box office or even shoveling snow.
“Volunteers are here because they love it and they are excited and share that with the patrons,” Aagaard said, adding that she enjoys what many other volunteers enjoy — the experience and meeting new people.
When volunteers come in to get uniforms at the beginning of a new film season, “It is almost like a reunion, like they are coming to summer camp each year,” Aagaard said.
But volunteers go home with more than just a good feeling. One perk of the job is the uniform, consisting of an orange Kenneth Cole coat with zip-off sleeves. They also get access to films and credentials to venues and special events.
Aagaard said the majority of volunteers are local, but others come from around the country or the world.
“For us, the volunteers provide a high level of customer service and a positive attitude and energetic greeting,” Aagaard said, adding that volunteers help “make it more than just seeing a movie — you are coming to a festival.”
Continuing Sundance coverage
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