How Sundance and Park City grew up together over a four-decades relationship

Even before the festival was called Sundance, it’s been held in the Utah ski town.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sundance memorabilia pictured in 2003.

The guy who put Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand together was also the matchmaker for Park City and the Sundance Film Festival.

The annual celebration had launched as the Utah/US Film Festival in Salt Lake City in September 1978, and organizers were soliciting advice from some of Redford’s Hollywood friends about what to do in the event’s third year.

Lory Smith, one of those early organizers, wrote in his 1999 memoir “Party in a Box” that he and his colleagues talked to director Sydney Pollack — an old friend of Redford’s, who had directed the star in such 1970s classics as “The Way We Were” (with Streisand), “Jeremiah Johnson” and “Three Days of the Condor.” (Pollack later cast Redford in his Oscar-winning 1985 epic “Out of Africa.”)

“You know what you ought to do?” Smith recalled Pollack saying. “You ought to move the festival to Park City and set it in the wintertime. You’d be the only film festival in the world set in a ski resort during ski season, and Hollywood would beat down the door to attend.”

The next January, in 1981, the Utah/US Film Festival relaunched in Park City. Later that year, Redford founded the nonprofit Sundance Institute at his ski resort in Provo Canyon, naming it for his star-making role in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and aiming to foster independent filmmaking.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sydney Pollack, left, at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival.

The Sundance Institute announced Wednesday it is starting a process to consider where — in Park City or elsewhere, in or out of Utah — to locate the festival from 2027 forward. With that in mind, here’s a timeline of how Sundance and Park City grew up together.

1985 • Sundance Institute took over operations of the United States Film Festival, to create a showcase for the independent films the institute’s labs were developing. All screenings were in two locations: The Egyptian and the Holiday Village Cinemas. The big movie that year was the first film by Joel and Ethan Coen, the noir thriller “Blood Simple.”

1987 • A third theater was added, at Prospector Square.

1991 • The event officially changed its name to the Sundance Film Festival.

(The Salt Lake Tribune) Robert Redford at his Sundance Resort near Provo in 1985.

1995 • The renovated Jim Santy Auditorium at Park City Library Center became the festival’s fourth venue. The first Slamdance Film Festival, founded by filmmakers who were rejected by Sundance, launched in the Yarrow Hotel (now the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Park City).

1997 • Sundance opened its fifth Park City theater, in the Yarrow Hotel. Slamdance moved to the top of Main Street, to the Treasure Mountain Inn. Copycat festivals — with names like Slamdunk, X-Dance and Lapdance — inundated Main Street for the next few years, until Park City’s government tightened its event permit process.

1998 • Park City’s largest venue, the 1,300-seat Eccles Center Theatre, showed festival movies for the first time, starting with the Gwyneth Paltrow film “Sliding Doors.”

2002 • The festival ran a week earlier than usual, to give Park City room to prepare for another event: The 2002 Winter Olympics. Sundance was considered a pre-Olympic practice run for such additions as the Main Street transit hub.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Actor Brad Pitt makes his way past hundreds of photographers and fans to a Sundance premiere in Park City, Saturday, Jan. 12, 2002.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Former skier Bill Marolt runs with the Olympic torch on Main Street in Park City, Feb. 7, 2002.

2004 • The festival’s opening-night gala, for years a Salt Lake City event, moved to Park City — with a screening of the surfing documentary “Riding Giants.”

2005 • Sundance opened another large venue: The converted Park City Racquet Club, which seats 600. Because of its proximity to a residential neighborhood, no midnight movies are scheduled there.

2007 • Sundance added the Redstone Cinemas in Kimball Junction to its venues.

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sundance director Geoffrey Gilmore speaks during the 2009 Sundance Film Festival Awards Ceremony at the Park City Raquet Club Saturday, January 24, 2009.

2009 • Sundance converted Temple Bar Shalom, Park City’s synagogue, to a theater venue, called the Temple Theatre.

2010 • The elusive British street artist Banksy debuted his first movie, the documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” at Sundance. He tagged an outbuilding near Park City’s McPolin Barn and painted three of his trademark stencils in the Main Street area. The Main Street art has been preserved, making Park City a global art-tourist destination.

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Festivalgoers take a picture next to a Banksy art work during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Friday, Jan. 21, 2011.

2012 • After an extensive renovation, the old Racquet Club returned as the Park City Municipal Area Recreation Center — or The MARC, for short.

2017 • Park City saw its biggest traffic jam ever, caused by some 8,000 protesters taking part in the March for Women rally during the festival, the day after President Donald Trump was inaugurated.

2018 • Sundance opened a new theater, The Ray (named for the late movie executive Bingham Ray), in a converted sporting goods store.

2020 • The festival drew an estimated 116,800 attendees to screenings and events in Park City, Salt Lake City and at the Sundance Resort. Utahns and visitors from other states spent an estimated $150 million, according to Salt Lake City research firm Y2 Analytics.

2021 • For the first time in four decades, the festival was not held in Park City — forced online by the COVID-19 pandemic and onto screens in 20 other cities (mostly outdoor venues in Sun Belt states). The family drama “CODA” won four awards at the festival, and went on to become the first Sundance Film Festival premiere to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Foot traffic in front of the Egyptian Theatre on Main Street in Park City on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021.

2022 • Hopes of the festival’s return to Park City were thwarted by a surge in COVID-19 cases brought on by the omicron variant. The festival played online for the second year in a row.

2023 • The Sundance Film Festival returned to in-person screenings in Park City, though a modified online format remained available. The festival had a smaller footprint in Park City, with two longtime venues — the MARC and the Temple Theatre not in use. Slamdance also returned to the Treasure Mountain Inn after a two-year break.

2024 • The festival celebrated its 40th edition under the Sundance Institute’s operation. Slamdance returned to its original home, at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Park City. After the festival, the Metropolitan Theatres chain filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy, and in March closed the Holiday Village Cinemas — one of the festival’s original venues.

2025-2026 • Sundance Institute and the city of Park City have a contract to hold the Sundance Film Festival in the Utah ski town for the next two years.