Feature-length business starts in Utah

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KAI RYSSDAL: Everybody who's anybody here in Los Angeles is probably on their way up to Park City, Utah right about now. You'll notice that leaves me behind. The Sundance Film Festival starts up there tomorrow. It's not just actors and directors getting together. Marketing and sales people will be there too. Along with about tens of thousands of regular people who just want to watch movies. And spend their money.

Mitch Levine's a film festival consultant. Mitch, good to have you here.

MITCH LEVINE: Thanks very much, Kai.

RYSSDAL: You know, Park City, Utah, used to be this nice, little, sleepy, sort of old mining town. And now, you go up there and it's bananas.

LEVINE: There's a craziness to it all. And it's really an extraordinary transplantation of an entire entertainment industry. From Hollywood and New York and other places to this mountaintop in Utah.

RYSSDAL: And when they go there, they spend money like it's going out of style. There's bars and restaurants and T-shirt makers. I mean, everybody gets a slice of this thing.

LEVINE: There's a marketing component to it, there's an audience component to it, and obviously there's a filmmaker component to it. Which is what the whole purpose of the festival was. What Redford wanted it to be as it began.

RYSSDAL: We know that Sundance has this incredible demand and people go there. Is there a demand, though, for some of these smaller, less well-known festivals?

LEVINE: There's a massive demand for it. There's over 2,000 film festivals in the world today, and that's almost triple what it was just a very few years ago. The reason for that in large part, I believe at any rate, is the decline of exhibition opportunities. The decline of art-house cinema. So anything that's now what we call "specialty cinema" or "alternative cinema" has a hard time finding a movie screen to be projected upon. And people still want to gather in a dark room with a flickering image on the screen.

RYSSDAL: And I would imagine that there's no shortage of people in this day and age with a film to show.

LEVINE: There is no shortage. It doesn't mean that there's more and better filmmakers in the world. There's still a very finite quantity of what we'd like to think of as quality cinema. But for instance, this is the golden age of documentary film. This is the golden age of cinema coming from other nations. And film festivals are really the only place in the world where people can gather and see these as a group and experience them and interact with filmmakers. And this is an exciting thing for audiences to do.

RYSSDAL: Give us an example. What can a film festival be worth to a city or a town?

LEVINE: It depends. As it is born, of course, its value is fairly low in terms of the economic impact. But once a festival grows, once it starts attracting cultural tourists, and especially if that destination is also, for instance, a resort destination or a place people want to go for some other reason, it can add tens of millions of dollars to the economies of communities all over the world.

RYSSDAL: Are they expensive in and of themselves?

LEVINE: Relative to many other things, they are not. They cost money, absolutely. You have to rent cinemas, you have to bring people in from all over the world, you have publications to present. But the real costs are very, very small compared to, say, a sporting event or major gatherings like concerts and other kinds of things. It's really a fairly low-cost way of bringing people to a community.

RYSSDAL: Mitch Levine is the president of the International Film Festival Consulting Group. It does just what it sounds like. Mitch, thanks a lot for coming in.

LEVINE: Thanks so much, Kai.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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