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The Sundance Economy: How Robert Redford’s Film Festival Remakes Utah Every Year

Utah is always the big winner at the flagship event for the Sundance Institute, which spent more than $17 million to put on this year's festival.

Robert Redford

Robert Redford at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival


Sundance may just be a film festival, but it’s also an economic engine that generates a staggering amount of business every year in the ski town of Park City, Utah. The flagship annual event of Robert Redford’s non-profit Sundance Institute, the 2017 festival contributed more than $150 million in gross domestic product for the state of Utah, according to a recent study from research and data company Y2 Analytics. (That’s more than the projected 2017 GDP for Nauru, the island country in Micronesia).

READ MORE: Sundance 2017 Breakouts: Here Are The Movies You Can Expect To See In Next Year’s Oscar Race

Nearly 72,000 descended upon Park City this January, with slightly more than half coming from out of state. Most attendees spent four days or less at the festival, filling roughly 205,000 seats at screenings and events.

Though Sundance relies on more than 1,800 volunteers every year, the festival creates around 2,800 jobs for Utah residents, generating nearly $80 million in earnings for for its employees. The festival contributed an estimated $14 million in state and local tax revenue for Utah, and of the $17.5 million in total spending to produce the fest this year, around $11 million went to the state.

As more and more people attend Sundance every year, the festival has worked to select films from a more diverse group of storytellers, this year showcasing filmmakers of color in 34 percent of its features. Around 40 of the features and shorts this year were directed by women.

Laura Dern at Women’s March on Main.

Anne Thompson

This year wasn’t just about the films, however, as one of the most talked about events was the Women’s March on Main, which saw hundreds of people from both the festival community and the state of Utah brave freezing temperatures and constant snowfall to make a powerful statement about their support for women’s rights. The march was one of over 350 sister marches that took place in all 50 states and in 20 countries around the world.

As Sundance has continued to grow at a steady rate — the $151 million in economic impact this year compares to an average of $93 million during the past five years — many have posed the question of whether the event will become too big for Park City.

READ MORE: Sundance 2017: The 12 Best Movies of This Year’s Festival

“The question is, with the amount of people and the growth that’s going on, at some point there’s going to be a clash,” Redford said at the 2017 festival’s opening press conference. “Will we be able to preserve a space for us in this city? I don’t know.”

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