Separation of Sundance and State

In 2009, Sundance will celebrate 25 years of bringing together international cinema and a variety of cultures in Park City, Utah. But with California's gay community reeling from the passage of Prop. 8, activists and filmmakers are suggesting a boycott of the festival and theater chain Cinemark, whose CEO donated a substantial sum to the marriage ban's campaign. But just how realistic is a boycott of an entire state?



coming year is supposed to be a joyous milestone
for the Sundance Film Festival. Arguably the most
important film festival in the United States and
one of the most celebrated in the world, Sundance
turns 25 when it opens on January 15, 2009. For fans of LGBT
cinema, the festival that introduced queer classics
including The Times of Harvey Milk and
Longtime Companion and helped them become box
office successes has always been a must-attend. But this
time around, Sundance finds itself at the center of
the backlash created by the passage of
California’s Proposition 8.

Besides being the
home of Sundance, Utah is the central hub of the
Mormon Church, which organized its followers to support the
amendment banning same-sex marriage in the Golden
State and encouraged them to give generously to the
cause. With many gays and lesbians enraged by
Prop. 8’s passage, boycotts of all shapes and sizes
have popped up, encouraging LGBT consumers to
financially punish Prop. 8 supporters and their

John Aravosis has
been among the most vocal bloggers on the Internet
encouraging those slated to attend Sundance to skip the
festival -- and to make sure that not another dime
goes to Alan Stock, who donated $9,999 to the Yes on 8
campaign. Stock is the CEO of Cinemark, a movie
theater chain with more than 4,700 screens in 38 states.
Cinemark’s theaters include the Holiday City 4
in Park City, which has been a major venue for
Sundance for years.

“I pity
the person whose movies are showing at that cinema during
Sundance, because I have a funny feeling there are going to
be some really bad pickets,” Aravosis wrote on
November 14, noting that once Sundance filmgoers know
Cinemark’s CEO was a Yes on 8 donor they are
likely to think twice about walking through the
theater’s doors. “Some directors and
producers are going to be really pissed at Sundance for
putting their movies at that cinema,” he added.

A boycott
website and Facebook
sprung up soon after.

This creates a
conundrum for John Cooper, the director of programming at
the Sundance Film Festival and the director of creative
development for the Sundance Institute. Cooper, who
has been with Sundance for two decades, is a
California native who married his partner of 19 years just
days before the 2008 election.

Cooper described
Sundance’s host community, the tiny ski town of Park
City, as a bright blue oasis in a ruby-red state. He also
noted that Summit County, home to Park City,
“is one of the most liberal counties in Utah.
It's definitely a progressive community.” Cooper
thinks the idea of boycotting Utah itself “died
out pretty quickly,” but wondered why activists
are focusing on Utah when California is the state where
civil rights were voted away.

“I am
really saddened, ashamed, and embarrassed by my state right
now,” he said.

Cooper said that
dropping the Cinemark venue as a screening space
isn’t an option for Sundance.

Tags: film