Tribune Editorial: Utah celebrates 40 years of the Sundance Film Festival

Art can bring people together and help us see what it is like to be someone else.

(Charles Sykes | Invision | The Associated Press) The Egyptian Theatre is seen during the Sundance Film Festival on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024, in Park City.

Forty years of Sundance.


The film festival kicked off its 40th edition since Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute took over operation of the old United States Film Festival in 1985. This year’s edition of the best independent filmmaking from around the world kicked off Jan. 18 in a very Utah way.

It gathered some of today’s biggest names in movies for a fundraiser at the DeJoria Events Center in Kamas, the Gateway to the Uintas, population 2,092

Hundreds of screenings later, the festival concludes this weekend with final showings of the award-winning works.

It just shows that there is no place too small for good movies — and major movie stars — if someone will do the hard work of putting it together. Bit by bit. Piece by piece. Ounce by ounce.

It also shows the ongoing affection some big-time actors, directors and producers have for the festival. That includes “Oppenheimer” director Christopher Nolan, one of the visitors to Kamas, who screened his second film, “Memento,” there in 2001.

The Sundance Film Festival has been doing just that, making Utah generally, and Park City specifically, one of the centers of the independent filmmaking world.

But it isn’t just Utahns who get the benefit of being the first to see all these films. The festival is also a busy bazaar, supported by an A list of corporate sponsors, where multi-million-dollar deals are done that not only reward the filmmakers for their hard and often underfunded work but also will make the films available to a global audience, in theaters and/or online, that they otherwise might never reach.

An analysis released by Sundance concluded that the 2023 festival added $118.3 million to the Utah gross domestic product, $63 million in wages and $12.8 million in state and local tax revenues.

While so much seems to divide us, Sundance never has any trouble drawing Utahns to fill seats or be one of the many volunteers who keep the jam-packed festival running at the many theaters in Park City and Salt Lake City.

It is an example of how art can bring people together.

It shows how, if enough of us can sit still in a dark room for two hours, being entertained and enlightened rather than being harangued and threatened, we might do what the best of art always demands of us. That we stop to consider what it might be like to be someone else, from somewhere else. Enough of that, and we might stop talking past each other and learn to live together.

“I think civil discourse is something that is probably going to be our salvation,” said Amy Redford, Robert Redford’s daughter and a filmmaker in her own right.

Amy Redford, who lives in Utah, said that even though Utah “sometimes pushes back against progressive ideals,” its embrace of Sundance shows that “it’s still incredibly welcoming to the idea of interesting thought. That’s something that I think will continue to happen, and I think it’s a very healthy thing … for the rest of the country.”

This year, Sundance rolled out 82 feature films, 53 short films — out of a record 17,345 submissions. The program also included restorations of some of the most famous movies from Sundance history, including “The Times of Harvey Milk,” Go Fish,” “Mississippi Masala,” “The Babadook” and Utah favorite “Napoleon Dynamite.”

It’s not just the 11-day party that wraps up today with showings of this year’s award-winning films. The Sundance Institute has ongoing programs to support up-and-coming filmmakers.

In the words of founder Robert Redford, “Sundance deepens the resolve of artists, bringing them together in a creative community so that they know they are not alone.”

That’s something that a lot of us need.

At this year’s opening, Amy Redford said, “I hope that we’ll be here for another 40 years.”

At least.