Student Volunteers Get a Behind-the-Scenes Sundance Experience


The Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016. Peter Creveling, Daily Utah Chronicle

By Casey Koldewyn

Lights, camera, action! The 2016 Sundance Film festival has come to town, along with all of the excitement and drama that accompanies it. Many people from Utah and beyond pay the big bucks for the opportunity to see independent films before they’re cool, and Sundance rarely fails to entertain. In the midst of all the starstruck fun, though, did you ever stop to think about the people working behind the scenes to make it all possible?

Every year volunteers sacrifice their time and warmth to volunteer with Sundance.

Mikaela Bair and Noman Khan, both students at the U, are two such volunteers.

“I have volunteered for the past two years at the Eccles Theatre,” Bair said. “Initially I heard about volunteering through my brother and his best friend. They have been volunteers for five years now.”

Khan was slightly newer to volunteering. “I volunteered last year for the first time after hearing that a lot of my teachers and friends from the U were working there. I reached out to one of my professors, who works for Sundance every year, for suggestions as to how to apply for Sundance, and made it to Sundance as a full time volunteer, running an entire venue,” he said.

Bair said one of the best parts of volunteering is working with a new, diverse group of people.

“You get to meet so many people from all over the world,” she said. “Not only the people who attend the festival but also the other volunteers. It’s fun to form those friendships with your coworkers, especially when you come back the next year and get to work with a lot of the same people and also meet new people.”

Khan agreed. “You meet people from all over the world without any boundaries. It is a melting pot of arts and entertainment.”

Both Khan and Bair said the cold is the worst part of volunteering, but Bair added that the Sundance organizers make efforts to provide warm coats for volunteers working outside.

In addition to the diversity they both enjoyed, Khan said his favorite volunteering memory was a celebrity spotting.

“James Franco walked into my venue last year,” he said. “And I was like, ‘Wait, what just happened?’ ”

Whether it’s this year or next year, if you have the time to volunteer, Bair recommends you do it.

“It’s an experience unlike anything else,” she said.

Khan had something similar to say.

“One of my mentors said, ‘An opportunity is never lost, it’s taken by somebody else,’” Khan said. “So I try to take advantage of as many opportunities as I can and learn from them. And I would tell all the students to do the same thing.”

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