Jan 22, 2024 - News

Old News: When the stars first descended on Park City

An old news article calling for proper movie etiquette.

The Park Record, Jan. 15, 1981. Image via Utah Digital Newspapers, University of Utah

Before the Sundance Film Festival became official in 1984, Robert Redford brought another lineup of cutting-edge cinema to Park City with a festival that started small but brought star power.

  • This is Old News, our weekly flashback montage of Utah's history.

Driving the news: The 40th iteration of Sundance is happening now in Park City — but it wasn't Utah's first big film festival.

  • Robert Redford's company launched the "U.S. Film Festival" a few years earlier with a weeklong forum in Salt Lake City.
  • When it moved to Park City in 1981, only about 3,000 people lived there — and it's not clear that the mountain town was prepared for all the glamour.

What happened: The first sign of concern appeared on Jan. 1, when we saw the initial call for volunteers in the Park Record — less than two weeks before the festival began.

  • "Call Bonnie at the Chamber office," the notice pleads. "Volunteers are greatly needed."

Halfway through the festival, the Park Record printed hopefully — (?) —facetious instructions on how to behave in movie theaters.

  • Residents are advised to deal with chatty cinemagoers by asking the projectionist to stop the movie, turning on the lights and then calling on the audience to vote on whether the offender should leave.

Of note: "After the movie is over … you could be asked to attend a cocktail party," the column warns.

  • "If you have ever been around filmmakers, you know that they make 'films.' They do not make movies. They used to make movies, but now they make films," writer David Fleisher instructs. "'Gone with the Wind' is a movie; 'Ordinary People' is a film. 'Citizen Kane' used to be a movie, but now it's a film because graduate students said it was brilliant.'"
  • Fans also are urged not to tear Robert Redford's clothing should they see him.

The bottom line: "Parkites, in general, found all the fuss quite stimulating," an anonymous columnist wrote at the festival's close.

  • "There were, for instance, two visitors in perfect punk attire — short bleached hair, spiked wrist manacles and leather pants and there was a suspicious character in Devo glasses, knit cap and overcoat. They lent an air of excitement to an otherwise routine trip to the grocery store."
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