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Joe Garcia loves movies, especially low-budget independent films. So much so that he is willing — no, eager — to toil long hours as a volunteer at the Sundance Film Festival.

Garcia will be one of a small army of film buffs who freely offer their time to ensure the 2013 festival runs smoothly when it kicks off its 10-day run on Jan. 17.

"I've always had an admiration for Sundance and what it brings to Utah," said Garcia, 33, who lives in West Valley City.

It, Garcia says, are the movies that Utahns don't generally get to see unless they go to one of the few venues that showcase the work of independent — and frequently unknown — film producers and directors.

"It's the filmmaking. It's something that you won't see in [most] theaters. It's very unique, and it tells stories that movies in the mass theaters just don't tell," said Garcia, a film buff who sees close to 30 films a year, mostly Sundance-style movies at the Tower Theatre in Salt Lake City's 9th and 9th neighborhood or the Broadway Centre Cinemas in downtown Salt Lake City.

It, he adds, is also the favorable spotlight that the festival shines on Utah, where he's lived all his life.

"I think that there is a stigma [attached to] Utah, of how conservative our state is. Because we are able to have the film festival here, it allows people all over the world to see that we are open to other cultures, and we want to invite them — similar to the [2002 Winter] Olympics — to see our state," Garcia said.

He will be one of about 1,800 people who are donating their time to help the festival.

Designer Kenneth Cole has been on the festival's Board of Trustees since 2003, and since then, he has designed, purchased and donated the jackets that serve as uniforms for every volunteer.

This year, his company has crafted 2,300 bright red, water-resistant, panel-quilted jackets with black removable sleeves, according to Kenneth Cole Productions.

The jackets are a small way to show volunteers, who must volunteer a minimum of 24 hours, they are appreciated and recognized for the hours of service they give during the event. Volunteers also receive a coupon for 50 percent off a Kenneth Cole purchase.

On Jan. 23, they will be honored at the Volunteer Appreciation Day, where signs with Kenneth Cole posing alongside Kelly Rusk, 2012's volunteer of the year award winner in this year's jackets, will be displayed at all Sundance venues. There is a QR code for passersby to scan to watch a short video featuring Derek Waters and other celebrities called "Heroes Don't Wear Capes" and learn more about the work volunteers do.

This year will be the fifth time Garcia has volunteered himself to the festival. It's a commitment. He will work put in a 12-hour shift on either Saturday or Sunday during the first weekend, and then a pair of 8-hour shifts on the following weekend — after putting in 40-hour stints at the credit union where he works and more time at the West Valley City Planning Commission, where he sits on the board.

His job will be to inspect the press credentials of the hundreds of journalists who come from around the world to cover the festival, now in its 32nd year. Since he will work indoors, the job is relatively easy. Many volunteers work in the open air, lining up film-goers and making sure they get to where they need to go.

Perhaps oddly, Garcia doesn't get a chance to see many of the films that are screened at the festival. At most, he may see three, and his preference is for documentaries that tell stories about people's lives.

The payoff, he says, is a chance to rub shoulders with many of the directors whose movies are shown for the first time at the festival. Garcia is working on a documentary script. He avoids talking too much about it, but because he is a volunteer, he frequently gets to sit in on discussions where the people who watch movies get to ask questions to directors.

"It helps to hear their perspectives and how they put together a film and what the essence of the their film is," Garcia said.

"It's an education, and you get to get up close and personal with them," he said.

If there is anything that Garcia has learned, it's that writing is hard.

Twitter: @sltribpaul

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