Arts & Entertainment  June 20, 2024

Boulder makes ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ pitch to host Sundance Film Festival

BOULDER — A coalition of Boulder groups is making a play for the city to host the Sundance Film Festival for a decade starting in 2027. 

“What the Sundance Film Festival means for Colorado is not only helping the local economy in Boulder … it puts Colorado on the world stage,” said Eve Lieberman, executive director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, when Boulder’s pitch was unveiled Thursday during a Colorado Economic Development Commission meeting.

Founded by Robert Redford, the Sundance Film Festival, which has been hosted by the nonprofit Sundance Institute every winter in Park City, Utah for the past four decades, brings together thousands of film-lovers, filmmakers and celebrities to celebrate cinema and uplift artists.

“We believe that the power of connection that the arts bring … would really benefit us all,” Boulder city manager Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde said. “The values that the festival brings I think really speaks to the state and the city.”

Among the parties expected to submit a request for proposal, or RFP, to Sundance on behalf of Boulder are the Boulder Chamber, the city, the University of Colorado, the Boulder Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Stanley Film Center at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park.

“We see this as a great economic benefit to our entire state” that would have “spillover effects across the Front Range” and beyond, Boulder Chamber president John Tayer said. 

The 2023 Sundance Film Festival contributed more than $118 million to Utah’s economy, brought in more than 21,000 out-of-state visitors and created 1,608 jobs that paid Utah workers $63 million in wages, according to OEDIT. 

Indirect economic benefits from “people who come (to the festival) early and stay late” are forecast to be “conservative in the $30 million to $50 million range across the state,” OEDIT deputy director Jeff Kraft said.

In support of the Boulder RFP, the Colorado Economic Development Commission on Thursday morning approved $1.5 million in state incentives from the EDC’s strategic fund to help lure the world-renowned festival. State and local officials expect matching funds from other sources to exceed that total. Among the groups pledging to contribute are the Colorado Office of Film, Television and Media, the Colorado Tourism Office and Colorado Creative Industries.

“This is what the strategic fund is for; this is why we’ve kept this powder dry,” EDC chairwoman Carrie Schiff said. “This is, from my perspective, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to really bring something to Colorado that can have long-lasting impacts in our communities.”

The specifics of Boulder’s pitch to the Sundance Institute and what role monetary incentives play in Sundance’s selection process were not explained during Thursday’s EDC meeting.

“It’s commercially sensitive and confidential,” Kraft said. “Sundance requires us to keep the RFP process very tightly held.”

The Sundance Institute went public with its plans to evaluate new host cities in April.

“We are in a unique moment for our festival and our global film community, and with the contract up for renewal, this exploration allows us to responsibly consider how we best continue sustainably serving our community while maintaining the essence of the festival experience,” Sundance Film Festival director Eugene Hernandez said in a prepared statement this spring. “We are looking forward to conversations that center around supporting artists and serving audiences as part of our mission and work at Sundance Institute, and are motivated by our commitment to ensure that the festival continues to thrive culturally, operationally and financially as it has for four decades.”

Pitches from would-be host cities are due by Friday. “We’ve been working really hard on the RFP and we’re really excited to get this out the door today,” Visit Boulder CEO Charlene Hoffman said. “It’s been a big lift and we’ve been working really hard with all of our partners.”

Sundance expects to decide where its signature event will be hosted starting in 2027 sometime in late 2024 or early 2025. 

The Sundance Institute got a taste of what Colorado has to offer in May when the Stanley hosted the Sundance Directors Lab program.

Held annually for the last four-plus decades at the Sundance Resort in Utah, the Estes Park event was the first time the lab was held elsewhere.

The Stanley Hotel was a fitting location for a high-profile Hollywood gathering, as the 116-year-old, 140-room hotel served as inspiration for Stephen King’s novel,  “The Shining,” which became a horror-genre classic when it was adapted for the silver screen by director Stanley Kubrick.

Over the past few months, the Stanley has been at the center of another drama — this one without the spectral presence of Jack Nicholson, blood-soaked elevators or creepy twins — as its longtime owner Grand Heritage Hotel Group has jockeyed to sell the hotel property, while positioning the Stanley to garner state investment to help complete the long-awaited Stanley Film Center. 

The sale, according to state officials, would unlock millions of public dollars needed to expand the hotel and build out The Stanley Film Center, which, according to its website “will be the permanent home for film, fun and the horror genre” and will highlight the key role Kubrick’s film adaptation of “The Shining” has played in horror history.

The estimated $70 million Stanley Film Center effort began in 2015 with a jumpstart in the form of millions of dollars in state tourism tax incentives. Development of the museum and interactive film center, which has received several more public financing boosts over the years, has been hampered by construction delays, cost increases and the COVID-19 pandemic, which essentially shut down the hospitality industry for several months in 2020.  

Once complete, the Stanley Film Center will be “a two-story building with approximately 64,735 square feet, to include an approximately 864-seat outdoor amphitheater with a fire capacity of 1,200 (including standing room-only), an event center, a film museum, a sound stage, and related amenities, to be constructed adjacent to the main hotel building and connected to the concert hall,” according to a state documents. 

Blumhouse Productions LLC, the juggernaut production company behind horror films and franchises such as “Get Out,” “Five Nights at Freddy’s,” “The Purge” and “Paranormal Activity,” will serve as the film center’s exclusive exhibit curator.

Lucas High
A Maryland native, Lucas has worked at news agencies from Wyoming to South Carolina before putting roots down in Colorado.
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