Gay Marriage Activists Call For Sundance Boycott

Bloggers and gay rights activists have called for a boycott of Utah tourism in an attempt to punish the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ aggressive attempts to ban gay marriage in California. You might be wondering, “This is /Film, not /politics. Why waste my time with this nonsense”. Trust me, there is a movie angle to this story. Read on. Tourism brings in over $6 billion a year to the state of Utah, skiing resorts, beautiful trailers and the most famous film festival in the United States — The Sundance Film Festival.

In the last few days, The Sundance Institute has received more than 100 e-mails suggesting that the 2009 edition of the festival be moved out of Utah. Many blogs have called for a boycott of the festival, prompting the Institute to respond (via Indiewire):

“It would be gravely disappointing to us if the Sundance Film Festival were to be singled out for a boycott. We bring together a diverse range of independent voices and we remain committed to create a dialogue around critical issues.” … “To boycott the festival which has been the home for all diverse voices to be presented on the screen is dangerously backward thinking.”

I’m liberal, I live in San Francisco — an extremely gay-friendly city. And while I’m not gay, I certainly support equal rights for all humans. That said, I think a call to boycott Sundance is ridiculous. The Sundance Film Festival did not help sponsor the initiatives to support Proposition 8, and the festival should not be punished because of the location it chose over two decades ago.

And things took another turn once again today when John Aravosis’s AmericaBlog discovered that Alan Stock, CEO of the Cinemark theater chain, contributed $9,999 towards Prop 8. As David Poland puts it, this forces Sundance to face a direct challenge. Cinemark owns the Holiday Village Cinemas, one of the only real movie theater venues where films are screened during the festival. From what I recall, the Holiday Village holds public screenings in three of its theaters, and a fourth theater dedicated to press screenings. While the boycot talk hasn’t completely been dropped, bloggers are now demanding that Sundance to take a stand against the CEO’s significant contributions, and not hold screenings at the venue.

As it is, space is extremely tight in Park City. The festival holds screenings in the public library, the high school auditorium, on the basketball courts in the racket club, banquet rooms in a hotel, and at a small town convention center. Sundance spends millions to transform these locations into first class movie theaters. I’m not sure Sundance would be able to find a suitable replacement for the four Holiday Village theaters, even if they tried. The location is also prime because the multiple theater venue allows them to consolidate volunteers and queue set-up. To move locations to one, or more likely a few extra locations, could be extremely costly.

With the exception of some documentaries and international movies, screenings of most films are usually spread across multiple venues. This means that if a festival attendee did not want to support Alan Stock/Cinemark, they could easily choose to see their film selections in other venues. I usually try to avoid the Holiday Village Theaters because I hate the layout and extremely small theater sizes. Because Holiday Village houses one of the press screening theaters, this might be a challenge for some press. But a personal decision is much different than a corporate decision. And it will certainly be interesting to see how Sundance responds to this situation.

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