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PARK CITY ’09 | In the Wake of Prop 8, Film Community & Fest Organizers Defend Sundance Amidst Talk

PARK CITY '09 | In the Wake of Prop 8, Film Community & Fest Organizers Defend Sundance Amidst Talk

With about a week to go before programmers internally lock the lineup for the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, organizers are carefully navigating calls for a boycott of the annual event. Talk of a boycott emerged via blogs last week, including Huffington Post and AmericaBlog, in the wake of anger and frustration over the passage of California ballot Proposition 8 halting same sex marriages in the state. Members of the indie film community immediately came to the festival’s defense today, including filmmmaker Allison Anders (“Mi Vida Loca,” “Gas, Food Lodging“), who said, “To boycott the festival which has been the home for all diverse voices to be presented on the screen is dangerously backward thinking.”

Mario Diaz from HuffingtonPost cited a reported $19 million fueled into the pro-Prop 8 campaign by the Mormon church and John Aravosis of AmericaBlog called for the boycott of Utah, the Sundance Film Festival, and ski areas that draw tourists.

“It would be gravely disappointing to us if the Sundance Film Festival were to be singled out for a boycott,” Sundance Institute spokesperson Brooks Addicott told indieWIRE today, defending the leading independent film showcase that is also a fundraiser for the not-for-profit Institute. “We bring together a diverse range of independent voices and we remain committed to create a dialogue around critical issues,” she added.

“I think it’s also time for the Sundance Film Festival to leave Utah,” Aravosis wrote, in the wake of protests that are currently targeting the Mormon church, “And for any gay and gay-friendly producers to pull their films, and for gay and gay-friendly Sundance goers to skip the festival until it leaves Utah.”

An Associated Press article this weekend was picked up by numerous media outlets and included comments from Aravosis, who in subsequent blog posts targeted Mormon owned and operated businesses, including Marriott International, whose CEO Bill Marriott (son of JW Marriott) is a prominent member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and has served as a Bishop in the Mormon church. Festival organizers noted today that the local Park City Marriott, which serves as the annual headquarters for the Sundance festival, is indeed a vendor of the festival but is owned by Sunstone Hotel Investors, Inc., of San Clemente, CA.

Protestors have demonstrated at Mormon temples in Los Angeles and Utah over the past week and another rally at a Mormon church is understood to be on tap for a Mormon temple in New York City this week. An online petition is also circulating to challenge the Mormon church’s tax exempt status.

The Institute has received about one hundred email messages, many of which are calling on organizers to move the festival from Utah or seek other venues for the event.

“There were times in my 20 years here when I felt like Sundance was one of the only places these voices were heard,” Sundance Film Festival director of programming John Cooper told indieWIRE today, via email from a screening room. He emphasized his own very personal stake in the issue of marriage equality, noting that he and his partner, married earlier this month, live in California and have three daughters with a lesbian couple. Continuing, Cooper added, “Our location in Utah puts us in the heart of America which makes our mission just that much more important. Through the last 25 years this irony has not been lost on me…even though I usually don’t talk about it in these terms.”

A discussion thread on Facebook today included a number of comments defending the festival and discouraging the boycot talk. “Boycott Sundance because Mormons live in Utah?” asked filmmaker Allison Anders today, responding via Facebook, “How absurd — I am showing my students “Safe” today by Todd Haynes and in my lecture will talk about how groundbreaking it was that “Poison” was at the festival even before the ‘Class of ’92’ — and in that class of ’92 was included in the competition of 12, Greg Araki‘s film “The Long Weekend (O’ Despair)” (one of the earliest indies to deal with AIDS) , and Tom Kalin‘s “Swoon“. Sundance was for decades one of the tiny few hands that fed gay filmmakers, women filmmakers, browns, blacks, reds and everyone underrepresented on the screen, and it continues to be that for all of us. If people continue to misplace their rage over Prop 8 passing, they will change not one thing and none of us who supported the No on Prop 8 vote wants to see that happen.”

In the New York Post this weekend, film critic Lou Lumenick offered similar comments, noting, “The highly inclusive Sundance Film Festival has played a key role in nuturing the Queer Cinema movement for two decades and showcases several gay-themed movies every year. So this would seem to me to be a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

“It’s hard for us, we serve a really important role in the artistic community, and in general — we bring voice to people from all over the world,” added Brooks Addicott from Sundance, “It’s important that we get to continue to do that.”

“Dear Film Friends,” offered producer Ross Katz (“Lost in Translation,” “In The Bedroom“) today on Facebook, “The idea of boycotting Sundance is totally misguided and only HURTS the cause. The fact is that Sundance has been a constant home for celebrating gay films and filmmakers since its inception. Look back at the history of films that Sundance has supported. Look back at the history of theater projects the Sundance theater lab has supported, nurtured, and launched into the world. They offer a voice – a loud, uncompromising voice – for filmmakers of all ethnicities, sexual orientations, political bents. Those voices are shouted from the mountain tops of Park City. If anything, take the amazing platform that Sundance is, and run with it.”

Get the latest coverage of the Sundance Film Festival in indieWIRE’s special section.

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