Sundance Local Lens event focuses on Utah film community

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The Sundance Film Festival held its Local Lens event July 26-29 and showed nine indoor and outdoor screenings of festival favorites from 2023.

The event, which took place in Salt Lake City, West Valley City and Park City, showed films including “Polite Society,” “Birth/Rebirth,” “The Pod Generation” and “Fremont.”

According to Basil Tsiokos, senior programmer of the Sundance Film Festival, the event aimed to showcase a wide variety of Sundance films. They showed everything from documentaries to fiction, comedy to drama and horror.

The films that were selected were based on what event staff thought would play the best for Utah audiences and best represent the festival, according to Tsiokos.

“We are looking for films that we not only think that Utah audiences will like, but films that we want Utah audiences to like,” Tsiokos said.

Tsiokos said the concept of showing films outside of the winter festival has been happening for 25 years — however, the Local Lens event got its official name last year.

Unlike previous years when the summer festival highlighted classic films from any Sundance festival year, this year’s event brought back this year’s films, according to Tsiokos. He said that was a development that began after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Local Lens is expressly for the Utah audience first and foremost,” he said.

Local Lens also made a major change in 2023 by showing all nine films over a four-day period, unlike previous years which spanned the entire summer, according to Tsiokos. The Local Lens team wanted to create a compact series of films that would provide more networking opportunities for the filmmakers and actors who came to the event.

“The big change is bringing four days of film as opposed to eight days over the course of eight weeks,” Tsiokos said.

Pitching Your Project

Local Lens included the Pitching Your Project event, teaching filmmakers how to effectively pitch their films to investors.

According to Tsiokos, this event was unique to this year’s program and received praise from those in attendance. The event reportedly allowed filmmakers to learn about the pitching process by watching four emerging filmmaking teams pitch their own projects.

Michael Palmer, a future filmmaker, planned to utilize the event to prepare for his own upcoming pitch meeting.

“I have a pitch coming up with a smaller investor so I wanted to see how the bigger productions did it so I could scale that down and be ready for it,” Palmer said.

Gabe Brown, who attended the event, said the event gave him a clearer understanding of how to approach a pitch meeting.

“It’s about building the relationships between you, your team and your potential investors,” Brown said.

Makennna Bohler, a BYU student also in attendance, believed the event gave filmmakers a unique opportunity to build these relationships.

“These networking opportunities and being in the room where stuff happens is really important,” Bohler said.

After the event, those in attendance networked with other filmmakers and were able to start to develop those relationships. The importance of having a real passion for a project was the other takeaway that Bohler learned from the event.

“It’s a lot more about the passion behind the project than anything else. Proof of concept is really important too,” Bohler said.

According to Tsiokos, the most common mistake that upcoming filmmakers made when pitching their films is a lack of confidence.

“Have confidence in your project. You should never undersell yourself,” Tsiokos said.

The overall purpose of the Pitching Your Project event and the Local Lens event is to ultimately “empower Utah filmmakers,” according to Tsiokos.

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