Friday , July 15, 2016 - 6:00 AM
Interior of Peery's Egyptian Theater during Sundance Film Festival © 2014 Sundance Institute / Photo by Leah Peasley
OGDEN — The Sundance Film Festival’s recent decision to abandon its use of Peery’s Egyptian Theater as a satellite venue to showcase some of its independent films each January evoked a sense of sadness and loss within the Ogden community, mixed with hopes for a possible encore.
Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell said he attended the event every year and that he and other city officials were shocked when they heard Ogden screenings would be canceled. The event drew a diverse set of visitors to Ogden's downtown, and Caldwell said he was "heartbroken" to see it leave the city.
"We were all caught flat-footed with it," he said. "Hopefully, we can create some kind of narrative to bring them back in the future. Sundance (officials) always talked about how the Peery's Egyptian Theater was one of the most spectacular and unique venues in (their theater lineup), so we were shocked."
Former three-term Ogden City Councilwoman Amy Wicks echoed those sentiments.
“I was an annual attendee, so I’m really kind of devastated,” Wicks said, adding that she didn’t understand their decision. “Most of the screenings were well-attended. I saw a lot of good films there, some of which have now hit the movie theaters. It brought people to Ogden and served as a source of civic pride.”
Wicks said she gravitates toward documentaries, “and we’ve had some really magical moments here,” recalling the film “Searching for Sugarman” about a 1970s rock musician named Rodriguez.
“He was actually at the theater that night,” Wicks said, choking up with emotion over that rare moment. “He walked out and got a standing ovation, and you felt really fortunate to be there at that time.”
Scores of area residents also volunteered through the years to help make Ogden’s participation with Sundance top-notch. South Weber resident Brenda Kidman began contributing her time and talents to the cause in 2007.
“I actually started volunteering because I loved the Egyptian and liked the fact that Sundance came to Ogden,” Kidman said, acknowledging that movies are not really her thing. “I did it to support Ogden, Sundance and the Egyptian theater . . . with my time and love.”
Her extended involvement led to bonds she couldn’t have imagined.
“We were a family here and used to brag about how we had the best venue and volunteers,” Kidman said. “We did potlucks every year and parties at each other’s houses, and it was amazingly fun.“
However, Kidman could see that Ogden’s role in the larger life of Sundance brought some local benefit but failed to serve as a large draw for out-of-state visitors who traveled to Park City for the yearly event.
“Ogden was a distant venue,” Kidman said, pointing to the three-hour round trip from Park City to Ogden that deterred many attendees from making it to Peery’s film screenings.
A recent report compiled by the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute detailed the economic impact of this year’s Sundance Film Festival. While an estimated 46,600 attendees occupied 214,541 theater seats during that time, only 2.2 percent of those did so in Ogden. When surveyed, only 5.3 percent of attendees intended to view films in Ogden.
Of the 46,600 attendees, 31,262 traveled in from 42 states and 16 countries. A whopping 82 percent of nonresident attendees lodged in the Deer Valley/Park City area, while Ogden only accounted for 0.3 percent of total overnight stays.
Only 7.5 percent of attendees said they planned to ski in resorts other than Park City Mountain Resort, Deer Valley, The Canyons or Sundance Resort.
Michael Vaughan, an economics professor at Weber State University, said he attended Ogden’s Sundance events every year.
“I’m sorry they left, but I hope they reconsider and come back,” Vaughan said, acknowledging data has long indicated most of Ogden’s attendees were local.
“The one thing the study didn’t address is that some who stay in Park City do come to Ogden, and some of those ski at Snowbasin,” Vaughan said.
But that economic gain is “not nearly what you’d see at the other venues,” Vaughan said. “My understanding is that (Ogden) restaurants saw some business but not a great deal.”
According to The Salt Lake Tribune, Utah lawmakers trimmed the state’s portion of the film festival’s funding in half for 2017, down from $1 million to $500,000.
Ogden and Weber County are not listed among the government entities that contribute funds to the nonprofit Sundance Institute, but the Sundance website indicates financial support from the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development; Summit County’s restaurant tax and its Recreation, Arts, and Parks (RAP) tax; Salt Lake County’s Zoo, Arts, and Parks (ZAP) program; and the Salt Lake County Economic Development Department.
Earlier this week, Sarah Pearce, managing director of the Sundance Institute, said they intend to host a variety of local film screenings in Ogden during the summer and fall as part of a more community-based program for Weber County’s largest city.
Reporter Mitch Shaw contributed to this story.