A unique Sundance experience

Aidan Sheedy, Copy Editor

The Egyptian Theatre, nestled in downtown Park City, was unable to screen and host the festival for the second year in a row. Photo contributed by Colin Gosselin

Just 16 days before departure, a Quinnipiac Film Society tradition nearly came to a grinding halt as the Sundance Film Festival announced for the second consecutive year, in-person screenings of its annual lustrous event would be unavailable.

“It was devastating,” said Jamie Manley, QFS vice president. “But we always had a plan B.”

Manley, a third-year in the 3+1 film, television and media arts program, began to plan this trip in 2020 with QFS president and fellow third-year 3+1 film, television and media arts major Ben Labadia. Since then, the student organization has hosted several fundraisers to support the cost of airfare, housing and tickets. In total, it raised about $200 total from events like a screening of the 2009 slasher film “Jennifer’s Body” and a Venmo donation campaign.

“We had no SGA funding for the trip,” Manley said. “Fortunately, many students were able to buy individual tickets.” The trip itself lasted six days, from Jan. 21-26. With the festival located in breathtaking Park City, Utah, students were able to stay together in a rented three-floor house equipped with a large common area and renovated kitchen.

“Once we got there, everything that had happened before with COVID and planning it all made it all so worth it,” Manley said.

Many of the students have not been to the festival yet because of last year’s unexpected circumstances that led to the festival going entirely virtual. Unfortunately, not all 45 applicants were accepted to attend; the official list included 23 QFS members.

“It did not feel real being there,” said Mason Glod, a sophomore media studies major. “It feels like you are living in a Hallmark movie.”

The crew was able to view about 15 films in those six days. The most popular film among the group was Cooper Raiff’s “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” which was recently purchased for $15 million in a deal with Apple. Yet, the overall feeling of the films was a shared one.

“The main theme was about women taking control,” Manley said. “It was nice to sit down and relate films to the real world, and even though we could not take everybody, I am glad we were able to bring something back.”

Of course, there was an educational component to the excursion. As one can only imagine what a jam-packed room full of film majors would do, after each viewing, the group would gather around to discuss, analyze and criticize the latest premiere.

“It was the perfect balance of educational,” Glod said. “It was just so much fun.”

Aside from watching movies all day, the majority of students set out to explore the area.

“If we were not watching movies, we were out in Park City,” Glod said.

Park City, a quaint and picturesque town located in northern Utah, is engulfed by the Wasatch mountain range. The main street features the expected upscale restaurants, boutiques, cafes and countless tourist attractions. The surrounding area offered more adventurous activities for the students, such as skiing, snowboarding, ice skating and snow tubing.

Glod reflected on the exclusive experience no other student organization was able to have.

“I’m so grateful for Ben and Jamie. I want to go to Sundance every year now,” Glod said.

Manley was just as grateful for this experience that almost never came to fruition.

“Aside from the films, you’re able to bond. We became one big family,” Manley said. “Despite (COVID-19), we were able to get out there and make an impact on so many students.”