This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Of all the things that make the Sundance Film Festival what it is, the most ridiculous is often the parade of people Robert Redford once labeled as "ambush marketers."
These are the people who don't have anything overtly to do with Sundance, but come with something to sell anyway. They arrive in Park City eager to take advantage of the event and the concentration of 46,000 people, including the media to push their product, business, website, client or pet cause.
These are not the directors who have a film here, or the distributors trying to buy a festival title, or the sponsors who support the Sundance Institute, the nonprofit that runs the festival and year-round support of independent film.
They are the parasites who feed off the larger organism.
This week, after the festival was over, we learned that one of the self-promoters was Utah's attorney general, Sean Reyes.
Deseret News reporter Dennis Romboy wrote Monday about efforts by Reyes and his office to go undercover in Park City to find signs of human trafficking. "They didn't find anything," Romboy reported, "but say they learned they might not be looking in the right places."
Romboy tagged along with Reyes to the festival's official closing-night party Saturday at the cavernous Basin Recreation Fieldhouse in Kimball Junction. It's a big room with a lot of people filmmakers, festival staff, media, volunteers, and people who just bought a ticket. The three major activities are talking, dancing to the DJ's loud beats, and drinking the free tequila and beer (provided by festival sponsors).
It also was one of the most secure locations in Park City, with local police and security guards everywhere. Much was made of the heavy security at this year's festival, a necessity in the wake of last year's terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. At every venue, festivalgoers were told to open their jackets and bags for inspection. Bomb-sniffing dogs were a common sight.
Anyone engaged in human trafficking would most likely avoid a large open room swarming with law enforcement.
The closing weekend, as anyone familiar with the festival's rhythms can attest, is also the wrong time to search for signs of human trafficking. If one were to go looking and, remember, there's no evidence that any such activity is happening during the festival the opening weekend would be the time.
It's during the opening weekend that the Hollywood celebrities and well-heeled executives hit Park City, when the hype machine, party scene and gifting lounges are at full steam. The super-rich tend to leave Park City around Tuesday, the same time the "Entertainment Tonight" crews do. The festival's second half is populated by directors and hardcore independent movie fans i.e., people who can barely afford to get a movie made, let alone afford to buy and sell human beings.
A Tribune colleague spotted Reyes and his posse including Romboy, the D-News reporter at the closing-night party. My colleague noticed that Reyes, as Romboy reported, was dressed in a T-shirt and black beanie to blend in. We're not exactly at a "Serpico" level of undercover work here, or even "Fletch." Heck, even Inspector Clouseau put more effort into his disguises. (Also, a smart undercover cop usually doesn't have a reporter along unless there's going to be a bust.)
None of this criticism of Reyes is to denigrate the cause of stopping human trafficking. If Reyes had spent his time in Sundance's theaters, rather than at the closing-night party, he might have seen one of the festival's best-received movies was about the same topic.
The documentary "Sonita" tells the story of a teen girl from Afghanistan living as a refugee in Iran. Sonita dreams of becoming a rapper, but a harsher reality awaits: Her family wants to sell her off as a child bride, for $9,000, to raise money for her brother to buy himself a bride.
That's human trafficking, and it's a credit to Sundance that the festival can use its platform to bring global attention to such issues. (At Saturday's closing-night ceremony, the event Reyes & Co. attended, "Sonita" won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award in the World Cinema Documentary competition.)
One can see the political advantage Reyes would get from digging around Park City. Conservatives have used Hollywood as a catch-all descriptor of immorality since the silent era (Google "Fatty Arbuckle" for proof), and it's easy for a politician to tar the Sundance crowds as outsiders bringing Sodom and Gomorrah to the ski slopes.
Here's where that idea breaks down: Sundance isn't "them." It's "us."
Robert Redford has made Utah home for 40-plus years, and founded the Sundance Institute here expressly to create a mountain haven from Hollywood commercialism and cynicism.
Half of the festival's 2,000-plus volunteers are Utahns. And, according to a University of Utah study, the festival in 2015 drew more than 46,000 visitors a third of them from inside the state and pumped an estimated $83.4 million into the state's economy.
The state of Utah (specifically the Governor's Office of Economic Development) is listed as the "Festival Host State," and the state's tourism logo appears alongside the sponsors' logos. Gov. Gary Herbert regularly attends the Salt Lake City gala, rubbing elbows with movie stars.
So the next time the attorney general wants to grandstand on his pet issue, he might want to gather some evidence first before going out of his way to insult the people who organize and attend the state's biggest cultural event.
If Reyes just wants to go to a Sundance party, that's cool, too. I'm sure someone will give him a free beanie.