With its edgy films, esoteric panel discussions, and raucous parties, the Sundance Film Festival (Jan 22−Feb 1, sundance.org) hasn’t exactly catered to families. That is, until last year, when Park City’s annual celebration of independent film debuted Sundance Kids, a program targeting filmgoers ages four and up. But rather than turning to experts in Hollywood or New York City to ferret out high-quality kids’ movies, Sundance tapped a local and very knowledgeable source: the Utah Film Center (122 Main St, Salt Lake City, 801.746.7000, utahfilmcenter.org), creator and presenter since 2011 of Tumbleweeds, the Intermountain West’s only film festival for children and youth.
“The vast majority of the films made for kids in the US come from the big studios like Disney and Pixar,” says Patrick Hubley, Utah Film Center’s artistic director. As a result, Hubley takes his search for kids-specific independent film abroad to places like Canada and the Netherlands. “Unlike the US, these countries have national film boards providing support for the art of filmmaking in all genres. By bringing well-made independent films here through Tumbleweeds and now Sundance, we’re giving kids the same access to variety adults get to enjoy.”
Last year’s Sundance Kids movies were the Goonies-reminiscent Zip & Zap and the Marble Gang and the English-language version of Ernest and Celestine, a lovingly told friendship story, which was later nominated for an Academy Award.
Of course, adding a kids’ section addresses the Sundance Film Festival’s mission to nurture audiences. But here in Utah, where children are an integral part of the cultural fabric, it’s also a way to create community in a very identifiable way. “So many of the festival’s filmmakers, press corps, volunteers, etc., including me, are parents,” says John Cooper, Sundance Film Festival director. “Showing films for kids is just another way we can deepen and show appreciation for the Sundance family.”