Professor, students represent BYU at Sundance Film Festival

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BYU student Brad Bills works at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City. (Emma Willes)

The Sundance Film Festival provides BYU students with an opportunity to submerse themselves in independent film making culture and volunteer with industry icons. 

From Jan. 24 to Feb. 3, attendees participated in filmmaker and panel discussions and attended live music events and screenings of documentaries, short films, series and episodic content. Volunteers helped run the 11-day event.

BYU junior Brad Bills said one thing he loves about volunteering is the atmosphere.

“I get to be around so many people who love film just like me,” Bills said.

After submitting an application and undergoing training, volunteers receive their shift schedule and team assignment. They may help hand out ballots, direct people to their seats, answer questions or clean the theaters after film screenings.

Bills said he has served as a guard for the green room, which is where filmmakers and actors spend time away from the general public. The guards make sure only those with access to the room are permitted inside.

BYU student Mickey Randle said the festival gives volunteers a place to gain a better understanding of the industry.

“Sundance is really important in the film industry, so it’s great that BYU has a place there,” Randle said. “It can provide important opportunities to network.”

Student volunteers have the opportunity to show attendees what BYU students are like and clear up ideas they may have about the BYU community.

“A lot of times the outside world, and BYU itself, tend to think of BYU film students as only LDS filmmakers,” Bills said. “But getting involved with this shows we’re not LDS filmmakers, we’re filmmakers who happen to be LDS.”

Student volunteers are not the only ones who represent BYU at the festival. BYU photography professor Robert Machoian Graham’s short film “The MINORS” was one of 73 shorts that made the cut out of 9,400 submissions. The film follows the story of a grandfather whose grandchildren want him to be in their band. Graham said it focuses on the aspect of dreaming that anyone can have a dream.

This is not the first time Graham’s work has been shown in the festival nor is it the only festival in which his work has been featured. Graham’s films have screened at festivals across the U.S. and internationally. Graham has received nominations for his films “When She Runs,” “Charlie and the Rabbit,” “The Diggers” and “Forty Years from Yesterday.” He won awards in 2015 for his film “God Bless the Child,” including the DOX:AWARD in the Copenhagen International Documentary Festival. Graham said most of his film ideas are family-oriented.

“What I’ve found in myself over time is how much I am personally an advocate for family. That’s something I believe in and I’m in favor of and I support it,” Graham said. “I support anyone who’s concerned about raising children in a healthy environment so that they can become amazing people.”

Graham also combats predisposed ideas people may have toward BYU. He said representing BYU and the Latter-day Saint community in the film industry have always been important to him.

“I find that I’m a spokesperson for BYU and for being an LDS person. I feel privileged to be able to do that,” Graham said. “It’s important that we go out in these spaces and represent LDS culture as being more diverse and open.”

Graham said it’s crucial for students to have the exposure available through student volunteer opportunities. Students having the ability to view films that challenge different aspects of living is “really valuable,” according to Graham.

To read more about the festival and its events, visit www.sundance.org.

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