Tuesday , June 12, 2018 - 5:15 AM
Students leave Peery's Egyptian Theater after watching "Linsanity," a film featured in the Sundance Film Festival Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, in Ogden.
OGDEN — Trading 11 days in January for just one night in July?
It hardly feels like a fair swap.
Back in 2016, organizers of the Sundance Film Festival shocked locals when they dropped the more than decade-long tradition of showing satellite screenings in Ogden during the two-week January event. At the time, Sundance Institute officials said they wanted to engage with the Ogden community in a “different” way, promising that the festival dates would be replaced by a variety of local screenings during the summer and fall.
Since then, that sweet spot for Ogden remains elusive.
Last week, Sundance Institute sent out a press release announcing its 2018 Summer Film Series. In June, July and August, Sundance will offer free films in various locations throughout the state. Salt Lake City gets five screenings, Park City three, and St. George and Kamas one each. All but three of the announced films premiered at either the 2017 or 2018 Sundance Film Festival, with another from 2015 and one from 2008.
And Ogden? Ogden gets one screening this summer — Paul Newman and Robert Redford in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”
The 1969 Western will be shown July 23 in the Ogden Amphitheater.
Sara Toliver, president and CEO of Visit Ogden, chose to accentuate the positive she saw in last week’s announcement.
“Truthfully, I was glad to see something come to Ogden,” she said. “That’s what we were hoping for.”
Others aren’t so quick to put lipstick on what they perceive to be a cinematic-programming pig. Amy Wicks, a former Ogden City councilwoman who was on the Egyptian Theatre Foundation board at the time Sundance dropped Ogden, said she’d assumed Sundance would find other ways to bring independent films to the city outside those few days in January every year.
“We’ve been waiting for two years, and then we get ‘Butch Cassidy’”? Wicks said. “I get that it’s Robert Redford, but it’s a 50-year-old film that many of us have seen multiple times and we have easy access to. It’s not new, and it’s not broadening our horizons. It’s just disappointing and sad.”
Repeated calls to the Sundance Institute’s media representative were not returned.
Ed Spangler, a retired film instructor from Weber State University, said he talked to people who’d worked for Sundance around the time the Ogden screenings were dropped. He could never get a straightforward answer about why it happened.
“It seemed the crowds were all for it,” Spangler said. “Although there might have been some resentment on the part of filmmakers, because it was a step down for them. Instead of being in the hubbub of Park City, they were way off in the sticks — in, of all places, Ogden.”
Story continues below photo.
Spangler said he misses Sundance in Ogden, although he’s always happy to see yet another film showing at the Ogden Amphitheater. The more these local venues are used, the better, according to Spangler.
“I’m not going to knock that, and I’m not going to knock the movie,” he said. “But it was really great to have something to look forward to in the depths of winter, and it’s really a shame you can’t see the film festival in Ogden anymore.”
Spangler agrees with Wicks that showing a film shot five decades ago is “kind of a snub” to Ogden moviegoers.
“This is not a good-faith gesture on their part,” he said of Sundance. “It’s just giving us a sliver of a bone, showing us a movie everybody’s seen already.”
Toliver said part of the blame for losing Sundance in Ogden was declining attendance at screenings. She’d like to see more participation from the community going forward.
“Declining attendance was one piece of the puzzle, although other changes were being made, too,” she said. “Multiple factors led to this decision that none of us here liked.”
Toliver said she bears some of the responsibility for Sundance not engaging more fully with Ogden.
“We’ve let these conversations fall off the radar,” she said. “It’s a two-way street.”
Toliver said it’s important to build support for independent film in Ogden, and she encourages community members to attend the July 23 screening at the amphitheater.
“If we want that Sundance presence in our community, when given the opportunity we need to demonstrate we appreciate it by showing up and attending,” Toliver said. “I think that’s partially on us — we need to decide if this is one of those events that are important to our community.”
Wicks admits she’s struggling over whether to attend this summer’s lone offering from Sundance. She said those two weeks in January were always “something special” in Ogden, “and then we trade that something special for one movie?”
“I hate to say that — because you’re bringing a free film to Ogden — but when they committed to engage with our community, this is what we get?” Wicks says. “I’m conflicted. So if this is their test whether we are going to support something and nobody shows up, that’s bad. But on the other hand, it’s a 50-year-old movie. I’ve got better things to do with my time.”