06272017
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Sundance screenings give students a glimpse of cinema careers

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Utah students and educators give a standing ovation to Iranian rapper Sonita, who is the subject of a documentary in this year's Sundance Film Festival, as part of the Utah Student Screening Series. (Photo courtesy of Sundance Film Festival)

Utah students and educators give a standing ovation to Iranian rapper Sonita, who is the subject of a documentary in this year’s Sundance Film Festival, as part of the Utah Student Screening Series. (Photo courtesy Sundance Film Festival)

Free Film Day for Locals

Utah locals can see the audience favorites from this year’s Sundance Film Festival through free Best of Fest screenings Monday, Feb. 1. Filmgoers need to prove Utah residency via driver’s license or state ID card. For showtimes, locations, and details on getting waitlist tickets, visit sundance.org.

For many aspiring filmmakers, attending the Sundance Film Festival is a dream. For thousands of Utah students, however, it’s an annual field trip that shows teens what a career in Hollywood really looks like.

Each year, Sundance Institute hosts the Utah Student Screening Series, showing age-appropriate screenings of films that are playing in that year’s film festival — complete with question-and-answer sessions with the filmmakers — as a way to give back to the Utah community, said Kara Cody, senior manager of Utah community programs with the Sundance Institute.

“This offers kids a chance to engage with the world-class film festival that happens in their backyard,” Cody said.

This year, 14 Utah County schools participated in the program, bussing students to venues like the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center in downtown Salt Lake City.

At a screening of “Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall” Tuesday, editor Ryan Denmark answered students’ questions about everything from details about the editing process and working with Spike Lee to how Michael Jackson influenced Denmark personally.

Denmark said that the students’ questions were “probably the liveliest, most excited, most intelligent questions” he’s fielded in a screening Q&A — better than those of adult, industry audiences.

“Talking with them, the thing they are the most interested in really is how did my career go,” Denmark said. “They are very future oriented, and they’re thinking about their careers and next steps, how do you take this artistic spark you might have and grow it into something that’s going to not only be artistically fulfilling but also be a career.”

Students show off their Sundance passes after a screening of "Little Gangster," part of Sundance Film Festival's Utah Student Screening Series. (Photo courtesy of Sundance Film Festival)

Students show off their Sundance passes after a screening of “Little Gangster,” part of Sundance Film Festival’s Utah Student Screening Series. (Photo courtesy of Sundance Film Festival)

Denmark said he enjoys being able to provide the students with a valuable personal connection and real-world mentorship he lacked for the first several years of his career.

“It’s personal to them in a way, I think, when they’re coming and getting a screening like this and getting access to something, that they get to ask questions to people that they might not have encountered before,” he said. “It’s very valuable for people that age. I know it would have been for me.”

For students planning on a career in filmmaking, like Lone Peak High School seniors Isabel Latimer and Sol Harris, the experience can be instrumental in honing their craft.

“Sundance is really great because it gives you a taste of the industry and what it would be like to be there, I think, which is really exciting because you don’t really get that taste unless you come here and you see the filmmakers,” Harris said. “For me, it’s little things they say. You just catch and say oh, so that’s how this works, and you can build off of that. It’s really cool to see how the industry works and really get in the right mindset.”

Knowing they’d get to hear from the film’s editor, Latimer said she paid close attention to Denmark’s editing during the screening and was interested to see how that affected the film.

“I learned different styles of editing can evoke different emotions and reactions from the audience,” she said.

Lone Peak High School film teacher Dustin Topman said he and his fellow educators use the Sundance student screenings as a kickoff and inspiration for their student film festival season, culminating with the Utah High School Film Festival in April.

“This is one of the three biggest film festivals in the world,” Topman said. “My kids don’t even realize how lucky they are to be exposed to something on this scale, so I try to take advantage of that. We just drive up here, and they’re in this environment. Filmmaking kids across the world know about Sundance, so I think that’s special.”

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