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Sundance hits Ogden's vintage theater

(Photo by Kaitlyn Johnson) Sundance Film Festival patrons line up in from of Perry's Egyptian Theater is Ogden to catch a film showing Saturday evening.
(Photo by Kaitlyn Johnson) Sundance Film Festival patrons line up in front of Peery’s Egyptian Theater in Ogden to catch a film Saturday evening.
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(Photo by Kaitlyn Johnson) Outside of Peery’s Egyptian Theater in Ogden, Sundance Film Festival attendants form a line before a showing. The festival generated nearly $34.6 million in earnings for Utah residents during its 2013 season.

Every winter for 10 days, Utah and specifically Ogden’s economy, tourism and tax revenue increase dramatically. This phenomenon is known as the Sundance Film Festival and has been a part of Utah’s winter attractions for the past 30 years.

Sundance, known for showcasing a wide array of film genres from documentaries to foreign comedy, has been part of Ogden’s winter community since 1997. Peery’s Egyptian Theater is one of four select venues that exhibit films for the festival, and is also the second largest.

According to the Sundance Institute’s numbers from April 2013, the festival supported 1,407 jobs in Utah, contributed $69.5 million in gross state product, and generated nearly $34.6 million in earnings for Utah residents.

Although the festival attendance, spending and revenue from 2013 are down from 2012, Carla Woodmansee, the festival’s Ogden coordinator, said Sundance does “really well” in Ogden specifically and that attendance is growing each year.

Forty volunteers stay in Ogden during the festival. Some are locals who have been volunteering for seven or eight seasons, while others have traveled across the country to experience Sundance year after year.

“Most of our volunteers are alumni,” said Woodmansee, mentioning that they come back year after year.

Sundance volunteer Clinton Campbell, a self-proclaimed film addict, travels from Columbia, S.C., every year to volunteer at the festival. This is his fifth season volunteering.

“At Sundance, if we wanted to catch a film and couldn’t get any tickets elsewhere, I discovered this beautiful place (Ogden),” Campbell said. “This is a great experience every year.”

Matthew Choberka, chair of the department of visual arts at Weber State University, said he encourages art students to participate in Sundance and see as many films as possible.

“I think it’s a unique opportunity,” said Choberka, noting that Sundance may be under students’ radar most of the time. “I think word of mouth within the students community is going to make that difference too.”

Linda Larsen, WSU alumna and Sundance volunteer, said she thinks Sundance is beneficial to Ogden and WSU students because viewers are exposed to a unique style of filmmaking that is hard to find in Ogden any other time of year.

“I just think this (Peery’s) is such a beautiful theater, and people are just beginning to notice it,” Larsen said. “There’s just a little bit of romance here that we don’t find in any of the other theaters.”

Larsen has been involved with Sundance for five years, and she said the experience was like a vacation. “It’s kind of like a mini-vacation, but you’re still able to work. I like how I don’t have to go somewhere and spend a bunch of money, but I’m still on vacation.”

Darnel Haney, a former WSU associate dean of students and a sociology professor, said Peery’s Egyptian Theater is a well-kept secret.

“This is one of the best theaters in the country, and I’ve traveled all over the United States, seeing theaters everywhere,” he said.

Currently WSU, along with Peery’s Egyptian Theater, is hosting its own film series. Once a month, a free film screening accompanied by a director Q-and-A is available to the community free of charge. The next scheduled showing is “Inequality For All” on Feb. 20, followed by a Q-and-A session with director Jacob Kornbluth.

Choberka said these film screenings, which student fees fund in part, provide students with a different experience than a typical theater or watching films on mobile devices. He said he hopes for continued funding from student fees for the series.

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