Every January, people travel from around the world to visit the Sundance Film Festival, including students from Point Loma Nazarene University. Located in Park City, Utah, Sundance is the biggest independent film festival in the United States. The festival usually had around 100 independent films; in 2023 99 films were shown. These films are screened over the course of 10 days, with all films receiving multiple screenings. For film lovers, the festival is an incredibly unique opportunity to discover unique independent films, and sometimes even meet the people who worked on them.
This is why PLNU offers students a chance to attend the festival with their classmates and a professor. Students can enroll in the one unit class in the spring semester, where they will miss a week of school to attend the festival in late January. I was fortunate enough to be one of four Point Loma students who attended Sundance this year.
Point Loma’s trip is run by the Windrider Institute, a Christian organization aiming to bring students to Sundance and facilitate engaging discussions. Their website says, “In 2005, co-founders John and Ed Priddy joined Will Stoller-Lee and Dr. Craig Detweiler, to explore the possibilities of an immersive educational experience at the Sundance Film Festival– with the idea that the Sundance Film Festival could provide a dynamic learning laboratory for students to engage in a cultural dialogue as it takes shape.” Olivia Cox, a fourth year multimedia communication major who also attended Sundance in 2023 said that she liked Windrider because it “gave a really cool perspective and offered more creative discussions.”
Windrider arranges housing for visiting students, and those students spend the week with volunteers in the local community. In my case, I slept in a very well-furnished basement in a house just outside of Park City. Windrider also features morning seminars for students to attend along with other peers from Christian universities across the country. These seminars include screenings of short films and discussions with a number of filmmakers.
One of the speakers in 2023 was Destin Daniel Cretton, a PLNU alum who has directed movies including “Short Term 12” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” and is currently slated to direct “Avengers: The Kang Dynasty,” the fifth film in the “Avengers” series. Hearing how he started off as a “nobody” and is now working on one of the biggest film franchises ever was a really great experience, and the ability for students to talk to high profile directors is a big part of why Windrider is so special.
But the real highlight was actually getting to watch the films. As part of the Windrider program, students in 2023 had access to 10 in-person screenings, as well as five online screenings, with the option to buy more. They also got to reserve their spots at movies early, as the films have a tendency to fill up. Sundance selects 99 films from countless applicants, and many films at Sundance are being screened to the public for the first time, meaning students will have the opportunity to attend premieres of certain films. The films in 2023 ranged from lighthearted romantic comedies like “Rye Lane” to intense horror films like “Infinity Pool,” and students had a lot of options when choosing what movies to watch.
In many cases, some of the creators of the films are present, giving festival goers an opportunity to ask questions after the film. In more crowded screenings it may be hard to get a word in, but screenings with less people in attendance give everyone a chance to talk. In one case I was able to talk to the journalist, Rae de Leon, who was the focus of the documentary “Victim/Suspect.” It gave me a much better understanding of the story and their thoughts on the issues raised in the film.
Cox said that her favorite part of the festival was “being able to interact with the directors and cast members after watching their film for the first time. I thought it was a really cool and intimate environment to learn a lot from people’s artwork.”
PLNU’s professor of film studies James Wicks, who also attended the trip with students in 2023, said of Sundance, “For film and pop culture lovers, Sundance is a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket list quality event. It’s simply incredible in terms of quality, aesthetics and the potential to be a part of meaningful social change.” While the trip may be expensive, with costs reaching over $1000, it is open to any student currently attending PLNU, and is a very unique experience for those who love film.
Written By: Troy Davidson