Sundance is evolving: how the Sundance Institute’s programs are encouraging artists and locals alike

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Story and photos by Charlene Rodriguez

The Sundance Institute has been a prominent organization for independent filmmakers and Utah culture since its creation. However, the Institute has significantly evolved. While filmmaking and collaboration remain at its core, the Institute continues to expand its reach by encouraging diversity and inclusion through its programs. 

According to the Institute’s website, the Sundance Film Festival was first established in 1978 by Sterling Van Wagenen in Salt Lake City. Yet the Institute wasn’t founded until 1981 by Robert Redford. 

 Having initially started as an organization aimed at promoting American-made films and Utah filmmakers, the Institute now extends past its local reach, offering opportunities for upcoming filmmakers from national and international backgrounds. 

Hands-On Experience 

Among the plethora of programs the Institute provides, its fellowships for young filmmakers stand out.

The Ignite Fellowship, as detailed on the Institute’s website, is a collaboration between the Institute and Adobe that is open to filmmakers between the ages of 18-24. Out of thousands of applicants, only 15 are selected for the year-long fellowship. The experience includes an all-expenses-paid trip to the Sundance Film Festival, as well as mentorship from Institute alumni professionals and access to workshops, labs and other associated programs.  

“The Sundance Ignite Fellowship is a great opportunity to learn more about the ins and outs of the industry and also be connected with other emerging filmmakers,” stated Maya Cueva, a 2019 Ignite Fellow, during an email interview.

Ignite Fellows are selected based on their submission of their one-to-eight-minute short films as well as “their original voice, diverse storytelling and rigor in their filmmaking pursuits,” according to a 2018 news release posted on the Institute’s website. 

Cueva detailed her experience attending the 2019 Sundance Film Festival: “It was an amazing experience going to films and events, being able to discuss and pitch my first feature documentary, and being able to connect with the other fellows in the program.” 

When asked how this experience has impacted her perspective on filmmaking, Cueva said, “This experience has definitely given me an opportunity to challenge the way I make documentaries and my style of filmmaking, particularly because the group of fellows do both narrative and documentaries.” 

Opportunities like the Ignite Fellowship allow young filmmakers to network and learn from professionals in the field. This has the potential to jump-start careers while providing the professional environment to further foster individual voice and style. 

Rooted in Utah

While expanding its home offices, broadening its reach and diversifying its stories, the Institute remains grounded by its Utah roots. It aims to encourage the participation of audiences of all ages through its community screening programs. 

The Filmmakers in the Classroom program began in 2000 but is now an annual opportunity for local high school students to view and later discuss a short film with the creators themselves. 

“We’re definitely doing those to bring those middle, junior high and high school students in and kind of expose them to independent films but also giving them the opportunity to meet filmmakers as well,” said Laralee Ownby, assistant director of Utah Community Programs, during a phone interview. 

Year-long programs like the Summer Film Series serve as an option for Utah locals across the state to experience independent films without having to trudge through the grueling festival traffic and crowds.“All of our year-long Utah programs are free and open to the public. That’s one thing that we want to make sure of. That we’re reaching everyone in Utah.” 

The effectiveness of these programs speaks for itself. Through an email interview, Jenny Diersen, Park City special events and economic development manager, shared statistics from previous years’ programs. 

During the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, the Institute’s Utah Community and Student programming reached a total of 11,387 people. This includes Filmmakers in the Classroom, free screenings for high school and college students and various other community screenings. The 2018 Summer Film Series reached a total of 4,113 people over the course of eight screenings. 

Elevating Art and Culture Locally 

Even outside of its own programs, the Institute continues to contribute to community programs that support the development of art and culture in Park City. Project ABC is one of these outreach efforts. 

According to the Project ABC: Arts, Beauty, Culture website, Project ABC is a Summit County initiative that focuses on the promotion, expansion and implementation of artistic and cultural opportunities for local emerging artists and individuals interested in the arts. 

This project includes recommendations for City, County, Businesses and individuals to help grow many areas of arts and culture,” Diersen said. “As arts and culture grows in our community I think it will be important to make sure we continue [to] represent our unique community, history and environment.”  

Collaborative community efforts like Project ABC ensure artistic sustainability throughout the city. Although Sundance focuses primarily on filmmaking and film production, its outreach encompass a variety of expressional styles. 

While the Sundance Institute continues to grow and develop new opportunities for upcoming filmmakers, it doesn’t lose track of its background. With its community programs reaching thousands of individuals each year and support for local artistic cultivation, the Institute keeps inspiring new generations of artists and filmmakers.

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A look at parasocial relationships

By: Elise Dunaway

SALT LAKE CITY — Many people feel attachments to celebrities or fictional characters. They treat them as if they knew them in real life. This is known as a parasocial relationship. The term was first used in 1956 by Donald Horton and Richard Wohl in their paper “Mass Communication and Para-Social Interaction: Observations on Intimacy at a Distance.” It originally referred to television figures, but has since been expanded to include celebrities, fictional characters, athletes, and other media figures.

Originally thought to mbe mostly formed only by lonely and isolated people, studies have since shown that everyone experiences parasocial relationships, regardless of how lonely they may be. In extreme cases, parasocial relationships can result in stalking or other problematic behavior, however most people treat them as they would a normal interpersonal relationship.

University of Utah freshman Lily Chidester thinks that parasocial relationships are more common today due to how prevalent social media is. Social media allows people to interact with others who have a parasocial relationship with the same figure, which then can help develop real friendships with those people.

University of Utah freshman Lily Chidester on April 7, 2019. (UNewsWriting/Elise Dunaway)

“Networking among people with a common interest is greatly amplified by social media because it increases the fanbase of the thing in question, whether that’s a fictional character, like in a book or a TV show, or a celebrity, who’s a real person, but is just one person,” Chidester said. “They can’t interact with everyone that knows them.”

Social media also increases the access people have to celebrities. People have the chance to interact with public figures, which can increase the likelihood of forming a parasocial relationship.

Logos for Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat, which are popular platforms for fans to interact with celebrities.
Instagram/Facebook logos: Wikimedia Commons
Twitter/Snapchat logos: Pixabay

“It seems that liking, sharing, and commenting on social media increases perceived intimacy between the person and the celebrity or character, increasing the person’s perception of their bond,” said Dr. Julia Moore, a Communication professor at the University of Utah.

Parasocial relationships offer many benefits to the person engaging in them. They provide a sense of companionship and can supplement real interactions with people. They also provide a sense of connection and community. People are able to bond with others who have a parasocial relationship with the same media figure. This gives them a group of people they can relate to.

Parasocial relationships are still relationships even though there is no reciprocation involved. People tend to get attached to celebrities they view as similar to themselves. These relationships can give people an emotional outlet. They can be themselves because there’s no expectation to meet a certain standard or act a certain way.

“The greater the intensity of the parasocial relationships, the more likely it is to have a significant impact on one’s life in terms of time spent, goals, and emotions or feelings of attachment,” Dr. Bert Uchino, the Department Chair of Psychology at the University of Utah, said.

Data showing which type of celebrities adolescents formed parasocial relationships with. (UNewsWriting/Elise Dunaway)

study done in 2017 looked at what kinds of public figures adolescents formed parasocial relationships with. It also looked at how they classified those relationships. Subjects were asked to name one celebrity they’re attached to and explain why. Their responses were then categorized into Actor, Singer/Musician, Athlete, Other, and Writer. The Other category included figures like talk show hosts and comedians. For girls and boys, actors were by far the most popular public figures to be attached to.

According to Dr. Uchino, access to actors and other public figures via social media can increase the likelihood of forming parasocial relationships. 

“It gives them yet another platform to interact with fans and often involves disclosure of personal information, which we know deepens relationship development,” he said. “It is likely that celebrities know this and are trying to foster a more devoted fanbase.”

While celebrities can’t form relationships with each individual fan, their actions on social media can encourage the fans to do so with them. Appearing to be relatable can increase a sense of connection and devotion. This can also increase how many people are part of the fanbase.

Social media may not play as big of a role in the formation of parasocial relationships with fictional characters. As they aren’t real, the characters can’t make posts or interact with fans in any way, shape, or form. The development of a parasocial relationship would then have to come from the source material and original content generated by fans.

“I have these fictional characters that I have built relations with, and particularly Harry Potter is super interesting because it’s something that was from my childhood. I’ve read the series an insane amount and basically have it memorized. It’s a huge part of me and how I define myself,” Chidester said. “It’s taught me ways to better myself as a person and the characters have taught me things about myself that definitely still could have come about in relationships with people where it was reciprocated, where they’re not fictional characters in a book.”

Popular franchises with characters people tend to form parasocial relationships with.
Star Wars/Disney logos: Wikipedia
Marvel/Harry Potter logos: Wikimedia Commons

College students can receive companionship and support from parasocial relationships. This can be very beneficial, especially when trying to balance school and having a social life.

“Parasocial relationships can be especially beneficial for college students with low self-esteem. Parasocial relationships with fictional characters or real celebrities can make people feel a sense of belonging,” Dr. Moore said. “So even though parasocial relationships are not ‘real’ in that the two people don’t actually know one another or interpersonally interact, these relationships have real effects on people, and many of these effects are positive.”

Elise Dunaway’s Reflection Blog

Utahns finding success for personal brands and business is largely thanks to their social media presence

Story and gallery by ISABELLE CURRAN

Utah and social media. How are these two big entities related?

For the past four years, social media has become less of a memory sharing platform, and more of a business. Almost anywhere you look, there are people trying to make a brand off of themselves or otherwise enhance their growing businesses.

This phenomenon is especially apparent in Utah. Many Utahns have strong social media followings in the hundreds of thousands.

While social media might be newer and has helped more people gain success and more exposure, many top social media people in Utah started with their own blogs. Themes of such profiles and blogs range from health and wellness to fashion, art, and lifestyle.

Social media platforms are the new hub of bloggers, specifically Instagram. Instagram first came on the market in October 2010, its original purpose being a streamlined photo sharing and editing site.

Nowadays, Instagram is a balance of real-life content and advertisements, which has proved to be the secret to success. Mixing the right amount of business and personal attributes bode well with internet communities.  

One San Diego State University student, Karis Bailey, 19, who is very outwardly vocal about the Utah social media scene, says, “Many accounts I follow of Utahns are inspiring and they make me want to go and experience what they are experiencing.”

Bailey has been active on social media, specifically Instagram, for close to seven years. Around two years ago she noticed that some of the people she follows, whom she didn’t know personally, were mostly from Utah.

“These people make their followers feel almost like family members,” Bailey says. “They are all very humble and grounded individuals.”

Bailey explains that she feels as though most of the Utah-based people that she follows create authentic content that engages followers into their lives.

Some of the Instagram accounts she shared are Cara Loren (@caraloren), The Bucket List Family (@thebucketlistfamily), and The Devines (@haileydevine, @bradleydevine, @somewheredevine).

For businesses, is it wise to utilize Instagram? Even newer than the concept of social media personalities is that of making your social media profile into a business. Now, posting and reviewing products on a profile can turn a profit.

The balance of original and personal content with ads and promotions is a tricky one.

“It is all right when they genuinely like the product they are advertising but I think there is a limit to what and how much you advertise something,” Bailey says. “Pushing things on to followers is unethical but I see nothing wrong with suggesting.”

Social media in Utah serves as a large community for people to connect and share ideas with each other. A popular social media Utahn who can attest to this is Renata Stone.

Although she is a newer Utah resident, her Instagram and company success is constantly influenced and inspired by her surroundings. With over 21,000 followers, her Instagram (@renatastone) is the connection between her business, her personal images, and her followers.

After Stone and her husband bought a house together, she started making macramé pieces to decorate their house.

To transform her creative hobby into a business, Stone utilizes her website and Instagram to share her inspiration, existing creations, and allow for commission requests.

In an email interview, Stone says, “Being authentic and real is the only thing that matters.”

Providing an accurate visual representation of one’s life is an essential way to gain favor with followers and promoting loyalty.

Stone says she does not consider herself a typical Utah social media personality, but recognizes that her Instagram very much follows a theme, something very common in not only successful Instagram pages in general, but Utahn Instagram pages especially.

“I think my Instagram account is as much about me as a human (or at least what I choose to expose to the outside world) as it is about my work. I think as an artist the personal and professional go hand-in-hand —it’s almost like you are your brand,” Stone writes.

Social media platforms are not only central to personal profiles but also to enhance businesses, as Stone noted. Normal Ice Cream is a food truck that is standing its ground among retail storefronts at Trolley Square, using Instagram to do so.

The Normal Ice Cream website and Instagram profile (@normal.club) give a comprehensive overview of the products as well as the story behind it all.

Owner Alexa Norlin, who has been a pastry chef for eight years, decided the ice cream business was more her speed after working in popular Salt Lake restaurants such as The Rose Establishment, Current Fish & Oyster, Fresco Italian Cafe, Cafe Trio Downtown, Cafe Trio Cottonwood, and Faustina and Niche.

She opened the Normal Ice Cream truck and became operational in June 2017. Later the truck took up residence in Trolley Square starting in January 2018 and has been there ever since.  

Norlin praises Instagram saying, “I truly think that I would be out of business without Instagram.”

The Normal Ice Cream truck is an example of good social media marketing. The Normal team utilizes its profile to promote the business by posting photos of products, updating hours, sharing, and serving as a place to allow customers to connect with the business.

Norlin says that, “Instagram has allowed a really natural way to engage with customers on a seemingly one-to-one basis.”

She has noticed the social media Utah phenomenon, but her social media involvement is mostly consumed by being a business profile only, not a personal journal. Still, Norlin credits her business’ success largely thanks to a clear and consistent social media presence.

Utah will continue to be the house a substantial amount of popular social media figures. For those who have a business and those who wish to share their lives online, Instagram seems to be the desired platform.

Looking into the future, there is no limit to how influential social media platforms can be to people’s personal brands and the business they create.


Comics create common ground in Salt Lake City

Story and photo gallery by GREG HOUSE

It’s Wednesday and for those in the know, that means new editions of their favorite comic books are hitting the shelves at Black Cat Comics, located at 2261 Highland Drive in Salt Lake City.

The walls of Black Cat Comics are brightly colored, seeming to come from the comics that line its shelves. Customers walk in and out throughout the day and Greg Gage — the man behind the operation — greets many of them by name, often with a prearranged stack of new arrivals set aside for the customer to purchase.

Gage grew up reading comic books, but gradually stopped as he got older.

“I kind of got back into them on a whim,” he said. “I picked up a couple of books I used to read and was like ‘God, this is cool,’ and after that, it was over.”

Gage reintroduced himself to comics as a young adult and he saw that the stories being told were not just the shallow, fun superhero romps he remembers from his childhood.

“There’s some real, honest-to-God literature in here,” he said. “It’s not just people jumping around like idiots punching people. There’s more to this than I thought.”

When he decided to open his own comic book store in 2004, he knew that creating a welcoming environment for his customers and hiring employees who understood that were both key ingredients for this business, which celebrated 15 years in business in May 2019.

With such a wide selection to choose from, there are many reasons why fans like Kyle Jackson keep reading comic books.

“I like reading a lot of different titles that show characters who are something to aspire to,” he said. “Not that I think I can learn to have superpowers, but the people underneath the masks are what is great to me.”

Taylor Hoffman used to shop at a different comic book store. But, after feeling like her reading choices were being judged by some of the employees, she started shopping at Black Cat Comics. She said she found the sense of community she was looking for.

“I immediately felt so much better, like I had a place to go,” she said. “After I graduated college, I kept coming by until Greg hired me and started paying me to stick around and talk about comics.”

As an employee at Black Cat Comics for more than five years, Hoffman tries to make sure that even younger readers feel like equal members of the community.

“I just love picking out things for little kids,” she said. “Especially younger girls because I wish I had that when I was a kid.”

Over the years, Hoffman has seen some of the store’s regular customers come in with their newborn babies and as those babies grow up she starts to recommend comics for them as well as their parents.

The all-ages section of Black Cat Comics is home to books featuring characters from Saturday morning cartoons as well as child-friendly versions of heroes who might otherwise be considered too violent.

“This is my baby,” she said, motioning to the all-ages section of the store. “I try to read all of these so I know how to talk to the kids who come in.”

It isn’t hard to see why a child would enjoy a weekly trip to the comic book store and Hoffman thinks comics can be an educational tool for them as well.

“Comics are such a great medium for younger kids to get into the habit of reading because there’s the picture books without as many words and then they graduate into [books with] more speech bubbles,” she said.

However, comic books are not just a children’s medium any more. A wide variety of heroes means there is a character for everyone, especially with the bigger publishers like Marvel Comics, who are pushing for more diversity in their mainstream lineup of characters.

Whether it is a young woman of color taking over the mantel of Ironman, now Ironheart, or a revelation that the X-Men team member known as Iceman has come out of the closet as a gay man, diversity plays an increasingly important role in today’s comic book landscape.

Sina Grace, who wrote the now concluded Iceman series for Marvel said on a public Instagram story post about writing inclusive stories, “To my knowledge, no publisher puts something out simply cuz it’s LGBTQ friendly,” he wrote. “Even Iceman, the reasoning was: there’s a story to be told about a man dealing with a secret he’s kept for 10+ years, not THAT he’s gay.”

When Gage first opened his store, he wanted to create a place where everyone can feel welcomed, regardless of their identity or background.

“Inclusivity makes more people feel more welcome in this space,” Gage said, “and that’s what I want, both from a business standpoint and a community standpoint.”

Instagram taking the advertising world by storm

Story and gallery by RILEY SPEAR

Instagram is the largest social media and advertising platform in the world and it continues to grow its users daily by the thousands. Organizations and businesses have taken advantage of the Instagram platform to advertise their products, target their audiences and create awareness for their cause, all for free.

Salt Lake City is a hub for startup companies that don’t have the funds in their marketing departments to pay for advertisements.

Individuals from three local companies, The Hut Group, Beauty Industry, and STEM, have worked closely with Instagram, and have accepted the large role it plays in their marketing techniques.

Beauty Industry specializes in hair, lashes and fashion. Paige Johnson is a member of the social media team who works with Instagram to promote a product.

She uses Instagram analytics to track following, and gauge when good times are to post in order receive the most engagement.

“Marketing is always changing, and shifting. With present digital age, social media is most of what marketing entails,” Johnson said.

Beauty Industry mainly targets young women because they are the majority of the company’s customers, which is ideal for Instagram because according to OMNICORE 59 percent of its users are individuals in the age groups of 19-29.

Johnson said Beauty Industry’s main objective through the Instagram account is to make customers feel as if they are a part of their community. Beauty Industry sticks to its content and theme to best emphasize its products in the market.

“Working in this industry I have become aware of others’ marketing techniques, whether it be competitors or my own time on Instagram. I often find myself taking bits of other techniques, and forming it to ours,” Johnson said.

Beauty Industry has tried to focus on what the big marketing brands are doing, and then tailor it to the company’s own theme. The social media world is extremely competitive, and it’s crucial to notice the likes, comments and following ratio in order to receive the most positive feedback and response.

Beauty Industry is a company that is familiar with the positive impacts Instagram can make. There are very few restrictions, no wrong outlook and is more about finding a strategy that works well with your company.

“Customer service is a big thing specifically on Instagram, because a lot of people currently if they have a complaint or question, it is a lot easier to do this through messages. We try to really be interactive with our following, and our customers who reach out to us on these platforms,” Johnson said.

Instagram is Beauty Industry’s main tool to advertise because it has the highest success rate in selling their products.

Instagram has the ability to capture so many eyes, and create global awareness. STEM, a program that targets schools in the Salt Lake City district, does just this.

Molly Vroom helps run, and plan their social media campaigns in order to educate, and promote STEM research.

“There isn’t much competition in this field of work. It’s more about receiving attention that could possibly lead to funding,” Vroom said.

In order to achieve this STEM uses demonstration videos giving a more hands on approach to the followers. “Instagram gives the ability to educate, and give knowledge, and that is another one of our main goals,” Vroom said.

STEM uses several social media platforms, but targets millennials through Instagram because they are the individuals who use it the most.

The world is constantly changing and growing, adapting to new trends of life. In order to be impactful on Instagram it’s crucial to put out content that ignites your target audience.

The Hut Group, a global company centered around health, beauty and fitness, sometimes can spend up to a month planning a post. This organization opened a small office in Salt Lake City and will grow in the years come.

Jasmyne Reynolds, a manager for their acquisition companies’ social accounts, works daily with Instagram.

Her days are spent brainstorming concepts, working with photographers and videographers in their creative studio, and collaborating with the content director and Search Engine Optimization managers.

Every one of The Hut Group’s Instagram posts is extremely evaluated, and calculated before posting. “Working with Instagram helps us achieve our goal of reaching consumers and getting them to click over to our online platform and ultimately drive purchases,” Reynolds said.

As the social media account manager, Reynolds also spends hours working with other brands doing Q and A’s, giveaways and questionnaires in order to bring in more followers, and gain positive feedback.

Reynolds believes Instagram is a platform that has allowed businesses to create a personal connection with consumers.

“It’s important now more than ever to showcase products as a part of a consumer’s life,” Reynolds said.

Instagram marketing is used in an assortment of aspects, whether it is to bring awareness of a cause, or to advertise and sell products. It has drastically changed the game from billboards and TV commercials to a free platform being used by billions. Instagram is the new outlet for inspiration.