On a frigid January morning, Alyssa, Jordan, and Melinda bid their pets farewell and piled into a snack-filled car. Their destination? Sundance Film Festival, in the postcard town of Park City, UT. They fought through treacherous snow, conquered formidable crowds, saw some truly kick-butt movies, and made fools of themselves over and over again (anyone know how to put chains on tires? The package said easy-on...).
Read about what delighted us, what frustrated us, the stuff we want to bring back to Boise Film Festival, and what we're happy to leave in Utah:
1. What is your favorite memory from Sundance? What excited/moved you most?
ALYSSA: The energy you feel is inimitable. Surrounded by others from around the world and sharing these experiences--everybody is open and passionate, and the atmosphere is contagious.
A moment that will forever remain the most notable for me was being in the theatre during Assassination Nation. I have not felt that moved by a film in a long time--it was honest, real, and empowering. You know you’re in the middle of something good when the audience stands and cheers, gasps, laughs, and cries--all within the first hour of the film.
Having the opportunity to see RuPaul Charles speak on stage was a dream come true. His insights on life and releasing the Ego to become who you truly spoke to me on a deep level. Getting to party with him later on was simply the cherry on top.
JORDAN: Highlights include watching Assassination Nation months before it takes the world by storm, sitting in a crowd of RuPaul fans with the queen herself only feet away, making connections with fellow volunteers, and strengthening my relationships with Melinda and Alyssa, the ultimate BFFs.
Also, there’s a quality that embeds itself in the very air of a film festival: a shared excitement for film, a feeling that everyone gathered in this tiny town has at least one thing in common, the buzz of too many films and not enough time--let’s call it inspiration.
MELINDA: I loved getting to know our BFF team better as well as meeting all of our fellow volunteers. The camaraderie of the Sundance volunteer community is incredible and we felt very proud to be such an integral part of making Sundance happen. I was most excited to see how comparable BFF is to Sundance--while not on the same scale, BFF is also curating innovative and exciting programming for our Festival attendees and local film community that are right in line with the direction Sundance is taking (with a Boise twist).
2. What is the biggest lesson you learned at Sundance? What's one thing that you would like to bring back to BFF?
ALYSSA: In regards to running a festival, the most impactful thing I took away is that despite all of the preparations and practice, nothing ever goes perfectly. There will always be bumps in the road or things that need reconfiguring last minute. Even the most well-oiled machine still has its ups and downs! As Director of Events, this was a comforting realization to have.
There are a million and one ideas running through my head after this festival, but something that struck me as paramount to integrate into BFF is all of the events outside of just watching films. We already have panels and workshops, but being at Sundance gave me ideas for so many other interactive facets of the festival. There is much more magic to be made outside of just the film programming, and I cannot wait to integrate it into BFF 2018! (Also having a bumper song that gets stuck in your head, so by the end of the festival you can’t stop singing it!)
JORDAN: I really admired how clearly the festival admired their volunteers and filmmakers. Before many of the screenings they played a spot that asked everyone to applaud the volunteers that made the screening happen, and when we were wearing our bright blue volunteer jackets--even when we weren’t on shift--Melinda, Alyssa, and I would often get thanked by passersby for volunteering our time. There was a volunteer appreciation day, a volunteer party, and a volunteer pass granted access to just about any screening, party, or panel (if you were willing to spend an hour or two in line, which was the case even if you’d paid for tickets). All that said, there was definitely some room for improvement in how the volunteers were trained and utilized while on-shift, but they deserve some slack for having to confront the task of managing ~2,000 of us. I’d love for BFF to have a volunteer program that equipped its volunteers to be effective and confident in how they help, as well as grants some sweet, sweet perks.
MELINDA: The biggest takeaway was how seriously Sundance took everyone's safety and enjoyment of the Festival. We'll definitely be implementing more systems for BFF2018 that take safety, security, and comfort into effect.
On a lighter note, Sundance created a film poster coloring book for attendees, which is something I'd love to incorporate at BFF2018 with an Idaho film theme.
3. What do you wish Sundance had done differently?
ALYSSA: From the standpoint of someone who has attended Sundance a handful of times, attending this year was a bit overwhelming. There was such a large number in attendance, that I got the particular vibe that more people were there to be seen, make an appearance at parties, and be a part of the spectacle than they were to really immerse themselves into the programming. As a film festival developer, it truly opened my eyes to what I want the scale of BFF to be and gave me a more solid idea of where I see our festival in the future. We do not want to be the next Sundance or TIFF, we are Boise Film Festival.
JORDAN: Lines, crowds, and waiting, oh my! Standing in line for a couple of hours to see the world premier of an exciting new movie as a volunteer is one thing, but eleven days spent corralled in tents with hundreds of other people, none of whom are even sure whether they’ll get into a movie that’s apparently just so-so is, well, exhausting.
Sundance is one of the largest and most recognizable film festivals out there, so there are a whole lot of people dumped in a tiny, tiny town for just a few days. While some could view BFF’s smaller numbers as a shortcoming, I found myself absolutely craving the smaller audiences, the lack of lines, the much, much less intimidating parties. We skipped out on a lot that Sundance had to offer because we simply couldn’t afford to spend a minute longer as an anonymous member of a crowd, and I found myself really glad that that isn’t the case for our festival.
- MELINDA: We took a lot away regarding how their volunteer program is set up and what we would/wouldn't incorporate into ours. A better understanding of what was needed on a day to day basis for volunteers would have saved us a lot of painful sitting around time.
4. What advice do you have for someone who plans on making the trip down to Utah in the coming years?
ALYSSA: Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation. Some of the greatest connections we made were with people standing in line with us, and everybody is there to network and meet potential collaborators. Also, fair warning, you’ll be standing in a LOT of lines. Oh, and pack twice as many socks as you think you’ll need!
JORDAN: Volunteer part-time for the second half of the festival! We calculated that that’d be the way to maximize the amount of time spent at screenings and parties without wasting your whole trip on-shift. Also, make friends early! Just like high school, everyone there will be nervous about making friends but too cool to show it--just cut through the crap and say hi!
MELINDA: Drive there with your friends to ensure countless sing-a-long time, utilize the bus and shuttle system, don't worry too much about all the parties - the films and fellow volunteers are what make it special.