For, Friday, Feb. 7, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: When I was the Deseret News movie critic for 20 years I loved my job. Seeing and writing about movies from 1978-1998 (and then continuing a movie column and DVD reviews for another 20 years) was a dream come true, and all the more joyful since I didn’t really seek it out; it just sort of fell in my lap after I went to work for the paper’s City Desk. Writing about movie events and doing interviews were less thrilling (but still kinda fun) and in the early years of the Sundance Film Festival, when it was still the United States Film Festival and had a video component, and I was the only Deseret News reporter writing about it, it could be frustrating to hear about all the great films I had no time to attend. Hence, this kind of whiny column, which was meant to be a bit tongue-in-cheek, though I’m not sure that was obvious to the reader. It was published on Feb. 9, 1982, under the headline, ‘Too much to see, but too little time.’ (And by the way, the festival director at the time acknowledges in this article that there were perhaps too many films and other events — but these days there are twice or three times as many, albeit with improved venues. And the festival has grown from 18,000 attendees in 1982 to 125,000 in 2020!)

I suffered the film critic’s ultimate frustration during the United States Film and Video Festival in Park City last month.

Of the 60 or so films shown during the 10-day event, I was able to attend only two.

And that’s not counting the 50-plus video pieces that were shown and the 60 to 80 workshops that were held — the vast majority of which I also missed.

Oh, I was there. I traveled to Park City on seven of its 10 days, I talked to a lot of people and did some stories, but whenever I set aside time for taking in the flicks (which is, after all, the reason I have this beat!), something came up.

Once it was due to family illness (strep throat went through my kids at a snail’s pace), two days were cut short due to my fear of impending harsh weather (my car doesn’t even run well on dry roads) and another two were chopped up due to the arrival in Salt Lake City of director Peter Bogdanovich and actress Colleen Camp, promoting “They All Laughed.”

So it was encouraging to me that the festival found two screens in the Valley willing to show “The Best of the United States Film and Video Festival” this week (The Flick in Trolley Square and the Utah Media Center), and by the time you read this I’ll have seen several more of those independent movies that won raves from critics and public alike at the festival.


1982 Deseret News interview stories with Peter Bogdanovich and Colleen Camp.

According to festival director Susan Barrell, however, I wasn’t the only one who felt the frustration of not being able to take in even a smidgen of what was offered.

“That was the major complaint we received. There was just too much. That’s especially true of the seminars; I think we just tried to do too many.” That’s on the agenda for correction next year,” she said.

Other complaints included a few technical problems, projection equipment failing, etc., “but that took care of itself as the festival went on. Even the best-trained, most wonderful projectionist isn’t used to running 20 films a day. Gradually they worked into it, and we hope to have some of the same people next year to avoid going through that process again.”

And some people didn’t like festival events being so spread out in Park City, with headquarters at the Holiday Inn Yarrow, seminars at Prospector Square, films at Holiday Cinemas III and uptown at the Egyptian Theater, and video located at Shadow Ridge. “I don’t know exactly what we can do about that but we’ll be talking about it. That may just be the way we’ll have to go.”

Barrell said it’s possible the video could be moved closer to other festival activity — and that might step up attendance there.

Overall attendance was up dramatically — 18,000, compared to 13,000 last year. And though the festival stretched over three more days than last year, it was also plagued by periodic bad weather — some days preventing travelers from going up the canyon at all.

More movies sold out this year, and attendance at seminars and workshops also rose. Out-of-state participants rose from 400 or 500 to 750 or 800 film/video professionals.

Video programs fared the weakest of any but Barrell said it is assumed that because this is still a largely unexplored art form; most people just don’t have the inclination to leave their homes to go watch television, however different it may be from that box in their living room.


           Stanley Kramer, left; Francis Ford Coppola

“But what we did with the industry was very beneficial. Several network and cable people were very interested in broadcasting some of what they saw.” She added that public interest in video will no doubt increase in coming years.

As to the John Ford Medallion and the major video award, which went, respectively, to Stanley Kramer and Francis Ford Coppola this year, Barrell said there are detractors who would like to see the awards done away with but she feels they are important components. “The festival has changed focus, however, and we need to decide if we should change the direction of those awards.”

The focus is clearly on independent films and the young filmmakers who create them, and with improved viewing situations (especially Park City’s renovated Egyptian Theater) and a broader spectrum of work to choose from this year, the national recognition the festival is receiving is clearly deserved.

Though this was the United States Film and Video Festival’s fourth year, it is still in its infancy. Tightening up programs, learning from mistakes and narrowing the festival’s focus can only improve what is already an important annual event in the film industry.

And with any luck, I may get to a few more films during next year’s festival.