Opinion: Should Sundance come to Boulder?

Estimated read time 7 min read

Members of the Daily Camera’s Community Editorial Board, a group of residents who are engaged with and passionate about local issues, respond to the following question: Colorado film boosters recently announced a plan to attempt to lure the world-renowned Sundance Film Festival to Boulder in 2027. Your take?

While other cities like Atlanta and Minneapolis are among the places bidding for the Sundance Film Festival’s new home beginning in 2027, I hope that Boulder will earn the bid. For film festival enthusiasts, the 50-year success of the Telluride Film Festival has shown that small Colorado mountain towns can host great entertainment showcases. Also, the 20-year success of the Boulder International Film Festival (BIFF) has demonstrated an appetite for these festivities in the Boulder community. Sundance and BIFF can build on one another, integrate lessons learned and engage meaningfully with local Boulder creatives. 

While Boulder is deservedly seen as a base camp for nearby mountain activities, our community offers an appealing January destination for these entertainment and cultural endeavors among our residents and visitors. Further partnerships with CU can bring energy, talents and insights from students, staff and faculty and it can help to amplify interdisciplinary and integrative as well as humanities-centered pursuits from campus. The influx of visitors would bolster the local economy while bringing new jobs to the Boulder community.

Certainly, if Boulder were to earn the bid, it would motivate many important and critical discussions regarding how the city can successfully accommodate — and entertain — tens of thousands of new visitors over the subsequent years. That would be an exciting challenge that could spark thoughtful transportation policy action along with pedestrian- and tourism-friendly decision-making. For instance, public transportation options could be put in place to help visitors and residents move pleasantly and efficiently throughout the city (think creatively about trams or gondolas that could link CU Boulder with University Hill, Foothills Community Park area, Chautauqua and the downtown). Moreover, planners could advance public-private partnerships to transform surface parking and other underutilized spaces into multi-purpose housing units, plazas and pocket parks. Earning the bid to host Sundance can also further catalyze the development of new entertainment venues in the Boulder area like the still-dormant civic use pad. 

For years Boulder has been an engaged community where we wrestle with various narratives about how to live, and what stories we tell about ourselves and others. The Sundance Film Festival holds the potential to deepen those productive considerations while welcoming and engaging with those who would visit and take part in the film festival. This could mark a positive inflection point for the Boulder community, addressing chronic challenges while advancing many longstanding goals and commitments to inclusion, enrichment and diversity.

Max Boykoff, mboykoff@gmail.com

My initial reaction was, “Why would we want Sundance HERE?” It’s so identified with Park City, Robert Redford in a snow-dusted Stetson and all that. However, giving it a little more thought, it doesn’t seem like the worst sort of event/enterprise to add to Boulder’s collection (and I don’t blame Sundance for wanting to get out of Utah with all the anti-gay and anti-trans legislation being passed there). One big caveat: We really wouldn’t want a bigger, more famous festival to elbow in and suck life out of our homegrown and wonderful BIFF, which recently celebrated 20 years. If we land Sundance, one of the festivals would need to shift seasons so they don’t happen too close together.

The cool factor aside, the primary motivation for going after Sundance is pure business: to get more visitors staying, eating and shopping in Boulder year-round by boosting tourism in January when it’s supposedly “quiet” here. We do have all these large new hotels in town, including the Limelight on the Hill which will open next year, that I suppose need to be filled. There’s also an expectation that Sundance would create possibly hundreds of jobs, though I assume they’d be for only part of any given year.

The proposal (with plenty of financial incentives) has already been submitted, backed by the City of Boulder, Colorado Creative Industries, Gov. Polis, and state offices related to the film industry, business and tourism. I hope if we do get Sundance, the city will lean hard on the Sundance Institute to truly become a part of our community and not an invasive species that just wants to plant itself somewhere pretty (and possibly crowd out smaller events). What will they contribute to Boulder besides $$? It would be neat if students at CU’s department of Cinema Studies and Moving Image Arts could work with the Festival, just as working with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival is an enriching opportunity for CU’s theatre and dance department.

I guess we’ll see about Sundance. My crush on Robert Redford dates back to the ’70s and neither of us is getting any younger. In the meantime, Boulder has lots to offer us already. The Boulder Environmental/Nature/Outdoors Film Festival is coming up at the Dairy in mid-July, so check it out!

Diane Schwemm, parksidediane@gmail.com

“Reservoir Dogs,” “Napoleon Dynamite,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “The Blair Witch Project,” “Get Out.” These are just some of the famous movies that had their premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. The festival has been a launching pad for many influential and critically acclaimed films over the years. With such a prestigious history, the prospect of Boulder hosting the festival is both thrilling and daunting.

The logical part of my brain says, “130,000 film enthusiasts (with 20,000 being out-of-state) descending on Boulder over a 10-day period? In the middle of winter and the Spring semester?! It’s a madhouse!” But I love watching movies. It relaxes me to the point where my Fitbit often gets confused and thinks I’ve been sleeping for two hours. So, I would be lying if I didn’t say I’m incredibly excited about the prospect of Boulder hosting the festival.

However, I do recognize that Boulder needs to prepare meticulously to host an event of this magnitude. Transportation will be a significant factor. As seen in Park City, Utah (where the event is currently held until 2026), shuttle services have proven to be effective in managing the influx of visitors. Establishing a robust shuttle system to ferry attendees between venues, hotels and other key locations can help mitigate traffic congestion. Boulder should focus its planning and resource allocation on the first weekend, when most actors, directors and tourists arrive for premieres and Q&A sessions. Fortunately, the city already has experience with similar programs, like the Chautauqua Park shuttles.

Accommodation is another piece of the puzzle. Boulder will have to ensure there are enough lodging options to accommodate the influx of visitors. This might involve working with nearby cities to provide additional accommodations and ensuring efficient transportation links to Boulder. Local businesses should also be prepared for the surge in customers, which could significantly boost the local economy if managed correctly — potentially in the tens of millions of dollars, based on Park City’s economy.

Nevertheless, there are potential detriments that Boulder must tackle if selected. The sudden influx of tens of thousands of visitors could overwhelm local infrastructure, requiring detailed planning to manage increased traffic congestion, higher volumes of waste and interruptions to daily life for residents. Effective crowd management strategies will be necessary to maintain order, including setting up clear signage and coordinating with local law enforcement to handle the surge in attendees. Engaging with the community through City Council meetings and feedback sessions will help address residents’ concerns, providing transparent updates and involving locals in the planning process to foster support and minimize disruptions.

The Sundance Film Festival moving to Boulder could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. While my excitement is palpable, I recognize it’s important to balance enthusiasm with practical considerations and thorough planning. If Boulder can successfully address these challenges, it could not only host a world-renowned event but also enhance its reputation as a vibrant cultural hub.

Hernán Villanueva, chvillanuevap@gmail.com

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