(ABC4) – For each of its 44 years to date – with the exception of those interrupted by COVID – the Sundance Film Festival has always been held in Utah. Originally debuting in 1978 in Salt Lake City, the premier independent film festival moved to its current home, Park City, in 1981.
When the festival first began – under the name Utah/US Film Festival – the goal of the annual gathering was to attract more filmmakers to the state. The Sundance Institute took over management in 1994, and the festival was renamed to pay homage to institute founder Robert Redford’s character in 1969’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which was filmed in Utah.
Though Sundance certainly does its part to pay homage to Utah – largely by generating revenue in the state and providing discounted opportunities for residents to experience the festival – there’s been a shift from the original goal of promoting film in the Beehive State to a larger goal of championing independent film projects worldwide.
Even so, the festival has habitually featured work filmed in Utah. In the past, we’ve seen commercially successful films like Ari Aster’s horror flick, Hereditary, which premiered at the 2018 Sundance and was filmed in Park City, in addition tomore avant-garde picks, like SLC Punk!, which was shot in Salt Lake City and had its Sundance debut in 1999. Utah has also been picked as the filming site for Sundance films featuring notable celebrities, like 2007’s Dark Matter, which stars Meryl Streep and was filmed in Salt Lake City.
Many Utah landmarks – like the Bonneville Salt Flats, Stansbury Island, and Knolls Recreation area, have also appeared in Sundance films. Some of our state’s smaller towns have also gotten a taste of the limelight, with Ogden, Eden, and Kanosh all getting their 15 minutes of Sundance fame.
Normally, watching a film shot in Utah during the Sundance festival is exciting because of the festival’s historic location. Even viewers who aren’t from the state can perhaps spot some local landmarks they’ve traversed during their travels. But even with this year’s shift to virtual, the festival is continuing their ‘filmed in Utah’ tradition. In 2022, James Ponsoldt’s Summering adds to the list of Utah-filmed Sundance picks.
“We filmed it in the great state of Utah in the summer of 2021 while there were fires burning in surrounding states and there were temperatures up to 105 degrees,” Ponsoldt said with a laugh as he introduced the film during its virtual Sundance premiere. “So the idea of premiering it in the heart of winter in Park City and Salt Lake City means the world to us.”
The film follows four young teenage girls in the final weekend before they part ways to attend separate middle schools. Ponsoldt’s coming-of-age story starts off innocently enough, with the girls traipsing through the forest on the way to pay respects to “Terabithia,” a tree they have decorated with various childhood tokens and talismans. The story takes a darker turn, however, when the girls discover the body of an apparent suicide victim near their private hangout.
Instead of calling their parents or the police, the girls decide to play Nancy Drew and try to learn about the man. Along the way, their journey brings them the expected trouble, scares, and arguments, but also brings about laughs, tears, and moments of heartwarming joy, ultimately weaving together a story of four young women on the brink of growing up.
Summering is filmed entirely in Midvale, with scenes taking place in residential neighborhoods and various downtown shops, even specifically highlighting one Midvale business, M&C Burger.
The Sundance debut of Summering comes in the midst of negotiations to increase statewide incentives that encourage films to be shot in our state. According to Jeff Johnson, president of the Motion Picture Association of Utah, each dollar spent on filming in Utah puts seven dollars back into our state economy. This can make a huge difference for local film professionals as well as for the communities in which the filming takes place – especially for smaller towns that don’t perhaps see as much natural cashflow.
Even though Utah has a deep film history – think The Sandlot, High School Musical, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, and others – recently TV shows like Yellowstone and even BYUtv’s Dwight in Shining Armor – have switched filming locations due to larger incentives in other states.
Luckily, a bill proposed during the current legislative session would amend the state’s film incentive policy in hopes of enticing filmmakers to consider Utah once again.
And hopefully Summering can also be a first step to regenerating film buzz in our state, too.
Austin Facer contributed reporting to this article.