Arts & Entertainment

Volunteers weave Sundance’s colorful tapestry

PARK CITY, Utah — Once the Sundance Film Festival starts on Jan. 18, you will see these colorful jackets everywhere. According to Leah Connelly, Festival Publicist, Local Press & Press Lines, “Every year approximately 1,400 people generously volunteer their time and lively energy to bring the Sundance Film Festival to life. We have had new volunteers work side by side with long-serving volunteers who have been coming back to the Festival for over 20 years and who play a part in various roles during the Festival.”

Hooked on Sundance

Susan Lee Strauss has been volunteering at the festival for 28 years. She remembers when the volunteers were “a tiny operation at the Crane building in Salt Lake City.” She feels extremely connected to the community and has made friends along the way. Strauss says, “Sundance has been a huge thing for me. It’s my thing, and I love it.” She has lived in Park City since 1991 and started volunteering in 1996. She only missed a few years, e.g., in 2002, when she had already taken time off work for the 2002 Winter Olympics and couldn’t take more vacation. Strauss has the jackets to prove it. She has kept all of hers.

Changes at the Sundance Film Festival

“The Sundance Film Festival has brought money and recognition to this town, and the footprint has gotten smaller,” remarks Strauss.

This is especially true since the pandemic. This year, the Eccles Theater will only host Sundance Film Festival movies for seven days, and several of the other former venues are not being utilized this year. Other venues are stepping up to show their true potential. The online portion of the Sundance Film Festival is also being offered this year, which makes some movies available to viewers who cannot make it here in person.

Experiences that make volunteering special

You simply have to try being a volunteer to truly understand why so many volunteers come back year after year. Strauss has some fabulous stories. She was in the early stages of pregnancy during one of her volunteer stints. She was driving around filmmakers, actors and other Sundance Film Festival participants. “It gave me the opportunity to get to know people in a much more intimate setting as human beings, and it was a lot of fun.” She remembers how lovely people like Rita Wilson and Morgan Spurlock were. They actually had to pull over so Strauss could throw up!

First-year volunteers

Over the years, Strauss has taken many first-year volunteers under her wing, trained them, and watched them come back year after year. Strauss has worked at many venues. One of her favorites was the Screenplay Café, sponsored by the Writers Guild West in the late 1990s. It was held at the Prospector venue, and they would invite screenwriters for talks twice per day. The Screenplay Café was open to the public and lasted for about seven years.

Greet those volunteers

Being a volunteer at the Sundance Film Festival covers the full range of jobs. Cleaning theaters, shoveling snow, keeping those lines moving, helping out in unexpected ways, along with all the tasks that may seem more glamorous. Whether you are a local, attending the festival or a volunteer, seeing those jackets all over town means it’s now time for the 2024 Sundance Film Festival.

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