Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sundance Film Festival Wants To Panhandle A $1.5 Million Bailout From The State Of Utah, Implicitly Threatens To "Shop" The Festival To Another State

Undoubtedly thinking that Utahns' memories are short, the Sundance Film Festival is back to the well once again, looking for a $1.5 million bailout from the state of Utah. However, when I read the comments to the Deseret News story, it appears Utahns' memories of the last attempt just nine months ago are very much active - and they are just as unhappy with the idea now as they were back then.

Back in November 2008, the Festival first start making noises about a public bailout. But while the elite were drumming up support, rank-and-file Utahns panned the idea. Sundance's timing then was particularly bad, because Utahns were already up in arms over the Fed bailout of the financial industry. To its credit, the Utah State Legislature listened to the common folks and turned down Sundance's request for $1.5 million in funding in 2008.

But now that the Federal bailouts have receded in the corporate memory of the community, Sundance is betting that they can hornswoggle the state government into giving them the cash without raising too much of a public fuss. And they do present evidence which they hope persuades people that they are "too big to fail". Here are the numbers:

2009 Sundance Film Festival impact on Utah:

-- $92.2 million increase in gross state product
-- $46.3 million impact on wages, salaries, employer-based benefits
-- 1,968 jobs created during the festival
-- 13,699 in-state attendance
-- 26,592 out-of-state attendance, each spending $2,332.65 on average.

Sarah West, director of Utah Community Development for Sundance, said the January event brings Utah nearly $4 million in sales tax. Two-thirds of the people who attend come from out of state, and 71 percent of them say they're "likely to return" for vacations and business opportunities that will help Utah's financial bottom line, as well. Besides that, the festival attracts more than 1,000 journalists from 34 countries who come to Utah and showcase not only the film festival, but the state itself. Between December 1st, 2008, and February 28th, 2009, more than 8,000 print and online articles were generated in 90-plus countries, with a publicity value of more than $8.3 million, she said. Broadcast news and entertainment segments worth "well over $10 million" also were part of the most recent festival's coverage.

Sundance claims the Festival is at a so-called "tipping point" because of rising costs and shrinking revenue. But they're not asking for this money to survive, but merely to avoid eliminating venues or downsizing the festival. But to up the ante, Sundance is impliciting threatening to "shop the Festival" to some other state that would "offer incentives and take ownership." By the way, the Open Society Institute recently announced they are giving a $5 million grant to Sundance for its Documentary Film Program to help raise awareness on human rights. Furthermore, Sundance Institute also announced the expansion of its Creative Producing Initiative designed to nurture emerging independent producers in both narrative and documentary fields.

The bottom line - they're not asking for public bailout money to survive. They're actually asking for bailout money to grow the festival. How many private businesses in Utah got public bailout money to grow their businesses? Sundance not only believes they're too big to fail, but arrogantly presumes they're "too good to fail".

With recession extending nationwide, it's time for the arts to start paying more of their own way. The state government should call Sundance's bluff - dare them to move. It's easier said than done for Sundance. Sundance can stay in business the same way as everyone else - they can raise ticket prices, eliminate venues or downsize the festival.

Here's a sampling of some of the comments to the Deseret News story:

I have an idea | 2:25 p.m. July 16, 2009
Maybe they could sponsor attendees at the next "kiss-in"? Funny all these mega rich hollywood elites are coming up short a measly 1.5 million. That sounds like less than Redford paid to redecorate his bedroom up there.

Understandable though coming from that group, they elected a community organizer that thinks everyone is entitled to hand-outs.

The next GM? | 2:25 p.m. July 16, 2009
I was at this GOED board meeting. The Sundance representatives were practically begging for money. Several board members questioned the representatives about how they might cut back on expenditures or make business model changes, but Sundance made it sound like they could do nothing at all. I'm sure they run a pretty tight ship, especially because it's a non-profit, but there must be other ways they can cut expenses without jeopardizing the name and general operations of the outfit.

Sundance's requested bailout is a prime example of what happens when government begins to dole out "incentives." Companies/organizations come feed at the trough without doing absolutely everything they can to make it on their own. They become dependent on government just like individuals become dependent through welfare.

If the Sundance Film Festival, or any other operation, is so important and beneficial to Utah, then how are they not making enough to survive? Why can't it raise money from private donors just like any other non-profit that adds real value to society? We should not bail them out.

Oh Please! | 3:15 p.m. July 16, 2009
Why does every business think that just because it's not making enough profit, it is entitled to a hand out. My 16 year old son is only making about $10 an hour mowing lawns, I would like him to make $12 so of course the correct course of action would be to ask the government to subsidize the extra $2. It would be to much of a hassle to actually talk to him about ways that he could personally work faster or take on more clients.

Mr. Redford, how much to you personally make from the Sundance Festival?

That's actually a good question. Robert Redford has more money than God; how much has he kicked in?

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