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Make Your Mark at Sundance
by Karen Pecota

Remember my two special Sundance friends, Marti Kullen and Rhea Gavry? Our plans were set for weeks to roundez-vous during the annual Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah at the venue called The Student Filmmakers Lounge, located in the Yarrow Hotel. This was the perfect location for Marty and I because the Yarrow Hotel was one of the cinema venues for the press screenings that we passed every day. Rhea drew Marty and me into her world over an eight day period and the two of us were happy to be participants. Our schedules were a bit crazy during the festival week and though very little time was available to socialize, we had time for some photo ops with filmmaker and renowned cinematographer, Doug Monroe.

This was the deal: Our friend, filmmaker and professor of film, Rhea Gavry--on assignment from The Art Institute in Salt Lake City--set up a forum in Park City intended for film students. It was her idea to incorporate a drop-in center for students who would like to attend the festival and hang-out with other apprentices in the industry. The opportunity to exchange information and share film experiences was one her goals. Gavry explains, “The purpose of the Student Filmmaker Lounge at Sundance is to create a place where students could go and hang out together, get out of the cold, share their work with others and feel a part of the festival even though they were not able to purchase credentials for entrance into other venues. We had food, warm drinks and a place to hang out of the cold. In addition, it helped to promote The Art Institute (AI). Many people don't even know the institute exists.” In addition, Gavry invited professionals in the film industry, as guest speakers, to show-off their finished projects and enter into dialogue for hands-on mentoring.

The Sundance Film Festival attracts film students from both far and near, especially around the Salt Lake City area. I had the privilege of meeting a few students who attend the local Art Institute (AI), as well as, similar film institutions across the country. There were a few things in particular that inspired students to hang out while at the lounge.

The set-up for the Lounge: The Student Filmmakers Lounge was located on the second floor of the Yarrow Hotel in the Iver’s Ballroom. It was easily accessible by stairs or elevator and therefore, had a fair amount of foot traffic. Souksavanh Ritvixay designed the posters for the lounge’s branding called MYM – Make Your Mark at Sundance (see photos page ……). Her posters attracted many onlookers. The doors were always open to make it easy for people to engage in what was happening. The Iver’s Ballroom made for a hospitable setting. A touch of film nostalgia with huge film posters (made by students) decorated the rooms’ once bare walls to create a special atmosphere. Located along two sides of the room were computer lab stations for students to work on their projects or for viewing works of other film students. Another wall had a big screen for viewing pleasure. At the rooms entrance set a light food buffet that was ever changing offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as, an afternoon snack and array of non-alcoholic hot or cold beverages. Café style tables and chairs were made available to seat fifty people at a time. The ambiance was relaxed and inviting with plenty of opportunity to engage in conversation over film topics.

The schedule for the Lounge: January 21 – 29, 2011, 10:00 am to 11:00 pm. The schedule incorporated daily workshops, interviews, lectures, discussions with professionals and a special drawing held three times a day. One could win tickets to either a festival event or a festival film screening.
To give you an idea of the special lounge events here are a couple: 1) A presentation from photographer, Michael Slade. He is an adjunct faculty at the Art Institute and taught digital photography. He brought in several pieces of his work for show and critique; and, 2) Natalie Avery is a documentary filmmaker who showed her film "Outside" about homeless street kids who are a part of the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Questioning) lifestyle. Avery shadows four street kids and captures their stories on film. She shares their struggles to survive in the underground community of homeless youth. Her film reveals the complex issues that make it conceivable for them to choose a life on the street and adds that 20 - 40% of the homeless youth population in Salt Lake City from ages 18-23 identify as a part of LGBTQ.

A Highlight of the Lounge: 3 PEOPLE 3 MINUTES 3 GRAND

One crazy competition (3 PEOPLE 3 MINUTE 3 GRAND) was a feature highlight at the Student Filmmakers Lounge. It was the MYM - Make Your Mark at Sundance short film competition. The rules stated that you had to create a team of three people, pick a theme, length of the short film cannot exceed three minutes and one second and it had to be filmed at the festival. The winning team members would each receive $1,000 scholarship ($3,000). They had to use Sundance Film Festival as a backdrop (not a theme), edit it at the lounge and the winners would debut their piece in the lounge. The competition began on January 20 with a deadline being January 29th at 10:00 am. Judging would take place at 3:00 pm and the award ceremony would be held at 6:00 pm in the Student Filmmakers Lounge.

First Place winners were: Brannon Richardson, Scott Millet and Matt Robison Gog to the following website for your viewing pleasure (

Second Place winners of the short film completion were students Josh Rowley and Moises Lemus. I had the opportunity to meet them and found out that they are both entering their senior year at the Art Institute in Salt Lake City. Rhea was one of their professors and told me that they have developed a reality series which they have signed an option for a development agreement with the same producing entity now in production of "Sister Wives" airing on TLC. This is no small task and I know she is very proud of them. Rhea adds, “Both students are passionate about producing projects and do so with all of their spare time available. I think they will be successful in their future given their ability to stay focused on their art while looking at how it will work with commerce.”

My take-away from the Lounge: A great idea! It was classy and eventful. It was relaxing and informative. Everything was free and some had the opportunity to win tickets to festival events or scholarships. This was like heaven for anyone on a film student’s budget. Though the lounge was open to anyone, the student could not ask for a better deal. Thank you to Professor Rhea Gavry and her staff of professionals for “going where no man has gone before”…at least in reference to AI: Student Filmmakers Lounge at Sundance. There is no doubt, that the bar has been raised for the Salt Lake City AI’s participation during Sundance; and, for those who participated in the lounge events will mark their experience as unforgettable.