Sundance Film Festival brings much more than money to Utah — and you may not like it


The Sundance Film Festival brings a lot of economic activity to Utah, but is the festival something the state should endorse using tax dollars and legislation?

A recent report estimates that the 2011 Sundance Film Festival produced $70.9 million in economic activity for the state of Utah. What the report didn’t mention is everything else the acclaimed festival brings to the state – things that are inimical to the values of the vast majority of Utahns.

For example, most people likely wouldn’t describe the Sundance Film Festival as a family-friendly affair. In the past three years, of the 23 award-winning Sundance films the MPAA has rated, two have received PG ratings, nine PG-13, and twelve R.

This year’s festival presented at least 12 films with nude scenes; seven horror flicks replete with profanity, violence, gore, sex and nudity; and 19 films with gay or lesbian themes, including one that features “the [romantic] adventures of lesbian space aliens on the planet Earth.”


Queer Lounge, an organization “dedicated to promoting and supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) films toward the goal of broad crossover appeal,” used to host a special lounge at the festival for “LGBT people” and now holds events there to raise awareness of LGBT films and issues, including an event called “Homos Away from Home.”

To illustrate further what Sundance – and its counterpart Slamdance – bring to Utah, read what the MC of this year’s awards ceremony, Tim Blake Nelson, included in his list of “Top Ten ways to get into Sundance.” Fifth on the list was “Gratuitous Sex (but only between family members)” and second “Onscreen full penetration in 3D.”

According to one Utah filmmaker, cocaine use and “sex in the open” are common at parties associated with the festival. In his words, much of Sundance is “a giant frat party gone wild.”

All of this raises some questions.

First: Why did the Governor’s Office of Economic Development give Sundance $150,000 to be designated as the official “Host State” sponsor of the festival, which included displaying the state’s name on film screenings, magazines and lanyards attached to credentials?

Marshall Moore, Director of the Utah Film Commission

Second: Why has the state of Utah given $720,080 in support of the Sundance Film Festival over the past three years?

Third: Why did the Utah Senate pass a resolution this year (unanimously) “recognizing the contributions of the Sundance Institute and the Sundance Film Festival”?

Fourth: Why do Utah’s government officials, elected and non-elected, offer seemingly constant praise to the festival and the “brand” it promotes?

Perhaps legislators and other Utahns are not aware of the festival’s non-economic contributions to the state.

Yes, Sundance does bring much-appreciated economic activity to Utah, but should the state endorse the festival, and everything it brings, through tax dollars and legislative approbation? Is Sundance something Utahns really want to encourage?