Utah’s Economy Benefits from International Exposure of Sundance


By Kylee Ehmann


(Graphic by Devin Wakefield)
(Graphic by Devin Wakefield)


Along with the celebrities and the spotlight that the Sundance Film Festival brings to Utah, it brings money.

According to a 2014 report by the Sundance Institute, last year’s festival brought an $86.4 million increase to the state’s gross state product. Guests spent a total of $63.9 million in the state, and the festival made a $42.2 million impact on wages, salaries and employer-paid benefits. In addition to the immediate economic impact, the state also benefits in the long term from being featured in media and from future tourism.


These numbers hover around the average of Sundance earnings over the past five years, with much of the revenue coming from non-residents from more than 30 different countries. The majority of their money is spent in the Salt Lake City and Park City areas on local businesses, transportation and lodging.

Gry Wheaton, a senior in psychology, said she is glad the festival benefits the local economy, but she has some hesitations about where that money ends up.

“I know people who make a lot more tips that week and that it does reach people who are lower,” Wheaton said. “But I think overall the people benefiting are the people who are already established.”

While Sundance spells good things for Utah economically, these earnings don’t always transfer to the films themselves. Matt Lieberman, a director at PricewaterhouseCoopers, an entertainment and media company, said in an interview for TheStreet, a news source focused on the stock market, that film festivals such as Sundance are important when it comes to directors and actors building reputations for themselves, but few films generate a significant revenue from it.

This networking is another prominent feature of Sundance that offers support to the film community both within and outside of Utah. Carrying the original 1978 Sundance goal of attracting more filmmakers to the state, the festival offers a program that anyone can apply for to learn more about it all. Their website says each program includes “labs, grants, workshops and ongoing resources for artists to nurture their projects and sustain their careers.”

Erin O’Kelley, a freshman in film and media arts and urban ecology, said she likes that Sundance is ranked with top European film festivals such as the Cannes Film Festival in France and the Venice Film Festival in Italy.

Wheaton said this aspect helps expose Utah internationally, even if people can’t exactly pinpoint where it is on the map before they fly out here.

“Where I’m from, my mom in Denmark has heard about Sundance,” Wheaton said. “Maybe she couldn’t say, ‘Oh, it’s Utah,’ but she’s heard of [it].”

O’Kelley said she also likes the amount of exposure Utah gets around the world for the festival.

“I know a lot of my friends will go up to Park City just to see all of the different people that have come to this event,” she said.

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