Sundance Film Festival's impact in Ogden still very tiny

Saturday , February 06, 2016 - 10:10 AM9 comments

Doug Gibson

Ogden can boast it’s a part of the Sundance Film Festival but, according to a 2015 report, just barely.

According to The Economic Impacts of Visitor and Sundance Institute Spending produced by the University of Utah, only 3 percent of festival attendees viewed films in Ogden last year. That translates to 1,383 of the estimated 46,107 attendees. That is a slight rise from 2014, where an estimated 816 attendees, or 1.8 percent, chose a film in Ogden.

Two-thirds of Sundance attendees are from out of state, and that is reflected in attendance of films in Park City and Salt Lake City. The reverse occurs in Ogden with film attendees mostly from Utah. Not surprisingly, less than 1 percent of non-resident festival goers in 2015 lodged in Ogden.

“Being a filmmaker, I tend to spend the majority of the festival in Park City so I can attend panels and interact more with other filmmakers and actors, so my Ogden Sundance experience has been very limited,“ said Ogden’s Sahna Foley.

Yet the festival overall still provides a big economic boost to Utah. According to the study, the impact of $57.2 million in nonresident attendees’ spending generated $63.2 million in gross state product and $32.2 million in jobs earnings.

But how to get more of that money into Ogden remains an elusive goal.

Sara Toliver, president and CEO of Visit Ogden, says Sundance in Ogden is primarily been a drawing card for locals. However, the power of the Sundance name, coupled with Ogden’s association with it, does drive interest from tourists. 

“For us, it seems to be an added benefit. It’s not the sole reason for the visit,” she said.

But the primary benefit remains with residents, “who can come in and enjoy the independent film experience,” Tolivar said.

Messages requesting comment on Ogden’s festival impact with the Sundance Institute, Peery’s Egyptian Theater, and Snowbasin resort were not returned.

HISTORIC 25TH STREET BENEFITS

Toliver said local businesses also use Sundance to sell Ogden.

“Our (Historic) 25th Street restaurants see business. They love it,” she said.

Business during Sundance season was indeed up this year, said Alex Montanez, who owns Rovali’s Ristorante Italiano on Ogden’s Historic 25th Street. “We saw skiers and movie visitors. We have had so many ’newbies.’”

He estimated a 17 percent bump in business in January.

Jared Allen, the owner of Alleged, a nightclub and bar on Historic 25th Street, says Sundance adds a small impact to his business. People coming here to ski visit Alleged, he says, and learn that Sundance films are available locally. 

“They hang around to watch a few films in Ogden,” he said.

In that sense, he added, the local films cause visitors to spend a few more dollars in town.

“I don’t know if it will be possible to get more theaters involved other than the (Egyptian),” he said. He suggests that question-and-answer sessions with actors and directors, if done in Ogden, would boost attendance. In the past, he attended local gatherings in which some Sundance-related films on YouTube have been informally shown.

Having a Q&A in Ogden made Foley eager to see a film in 2015. 

“I did make sure to attend the documentary ’Racing Extinction’ last year at the Egyptian in Ogden because they brought in the filmmakers for a Q&A after the screening. That one actually brought a lot of people up from the Salt Lake area to Ogden, because they were familiar with the Oscar winning director and the others involved in the movie, but it still didn't sell out,” she said.

Montanez would love to see Ogden increase its presence by being more involved in Sundance planning. The past two years, he added, volunteers answered questions and recommended places to dine on Historic 25th Street during Sundance. 

“They were wearing vests that were (titled) ’Ambassador,’ Montanez said. This year, though, they were not used.

HOW TO EXCITE CROWDS A CHALLENGE

If Ogden’s to gain more from Sundance, it must have the electricity that other sites easily create, Foley said.

”I would love to see Ogden become a larger part of the festival, with panels and more filmmaker Q&As but I worry there just isn't enough demand for that here. The Egyptian is such an amazing venue, but the Ogden audiences seem to be much more laid back about the whole experience than the crowds I've witnessed in Salt Lake and Park City screenings,” she said.

Toliver says it will take time, and patience, for Ogden to increase its presence.

“We just can’t promote the festival independently,” she said. Sundance, she added, is very protective of its brand and marketing.

To increase excitement, and get the big crowds to Ogden, the community has to do the hard work necessary to promote what Ogden offers, Tolivar said. “There’s no beating around the bush.”

Contact reporter Doug Gibson at dgibson@standard.net.

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