Park City High students are hoping to become the ultimate source for teens and anyone else interested in the Sundance Film Festival.
Students in D'Arcy Benincosa's journalism classes are covering Sundance from every angle in the student-run Prospector with stories ranging from the impact of the festival on local law enforcement to celebrity sightings and film reviews.
The stories will appear on the school newspaper's website, http://www.parkcityprospector.com, where they can be read by other teens from around the world.
"We're really getting pounded with the fact that we have these opportunities that are not available to other high schools," said Rachel Westrate, editor-in-chief of the Prospector. "We get to be part of [the Sundance] scene and get kind of treated as a real newspaper."
Westrate and her classmate Hunter Loomis are among the privileged few who scored press credentials to this year's festival, allowing them access to film screenings, Q and As with actors and directors, and parties where those students can search for an inside scoop.
Although Westrate and Loomis will get a particularly close-up perspective of the festival, their classmates will experience Sundance, too. They will attend film screenings, write reviews and examine ways the festival impacts the community.
"This gives them the most realistic experience of what journalism is like," Benincosa said. "I really want the kids to get outside their [high school] bubble. It's very doable for them to get real stories."
Jillian Queri, for example, is working on an in-depth story about the burden star escorts place on the Park City Police Department. She wants to see how many officers are re-routed to star duty, and how that affects public safety. Other students are writing about the boost the festival brings in local business dollars, and about the change in busing schedules during the fest that leads to students getting out of school 10 minutes early.
Queri, who hopes to work at a newspaper someday, believes her Sundance experience will look great on a resumÃ© for college or an internship. And she is excited to have someone other than her parents and fellow students read her stories online. The Prospector normally gets around 100 web hits per month. That number jumps into the thousands during Sundance.
While Park City high schoolers are the only student recipients of press passes this year, hundreds of students will get to experience the festival through programs offered by the Sundance Institute, according to Meredith Lavitt, Sundance's associate director of Utah Community Programs. Schools will host film screenings and discussions with directors and actors through the Filmmakers in the Classroom program.
"We are always interested in growing our audience, but also it's important for young people to be able to see the world through these films and learn about important global issues," Lavitt said. "Hopefully we inspire them to tell their stories."
The program has the students at Park City High talking. The journalism classroom crackles with energy as the students discuss their Sundance assignments. It's such a good experience, Westrate says, that school administrators should consider giving school credit.
"I think we should get excused from school for two weeks to cover Sundance," she said.
Read the Park City Prospector's coverage of the Sundance Film Festival at http://www.parkcityprospector.com