The show could not go on without the 1,600 plus people I call, The Help—the volunteers who every year take temporary residence in Park City, Utah and work joyfully at the annual Sundance Film Festival. The festival would not exist today without these special volunteers. The festival organizers are extremely proud of their help and make it worth their while to participate. The feeling is mutual and volunteers return year after year. The limited full-time paid staff work hard all year long preparing for the festival but could never see the fruition of their work load if it was not for the volunteers to handle the 60,000 plus festival attendees.
The Help come from all over the country, from all walks of life, from all ages and many come from abroad. This year there were 1,650 volunteers in attendance, covering 350 types of jobs, and approximately 5,000 shifts that needed to be filled during the ten days of the Festival. Mind boggling, eh?
I talked with a beautiful gray haired woman on the bus this year and noticed her Festival volunteer badge and inquired about her job. She proudly shared with me that this was her seventh year as a full-time volunteer staff. She looks forward to reuniting with old friends and family every January. It is a different type of vacation for her as a retiree and cannot imagine a year without participating in the event. As I sat listening to her tell her story I wanted to sign-up to be a volunteer too. Her telling was compelling and for those who love to volunteer I got the impression that this is the place to be: a different adventure for lovers of volunteerism, film, travel, snow and fellowship.
The volunteer jobs have the reputation of being fun and the atmosphere is delightful. One of the jobs I have observed is at the bus stations. Those people love their job and they are always so friendly. If anyone is confused as to what bus to get on or where to get in line for a film, a Festival volunteer steps up and guides them. Those who stand out in the freezing cold all hours of the day and night at the Main Street bus terminal are amazingly. They assist the many travelers with a kind and helpful spirit along with huge smiles. For their generosity, the Festival takes very good care of The Help: viewing a fair amount of films on their time off, attending volunteer only events, a provision of daily snacks, and each receive awesome winter outerwear and accessories from one of the Festival sponsors, Kenneth Cole-- a special thanks for the volunteer service. The full-time volunteers are further assisted with housing through the duration of festival, as well as, the pre-training. Yep! The Sundance Film Festival is all about telling stories both on and off the screen. Volunteer Amanda Singer describes it this way, “It’s about the people who come together and create this community. Even if it’s just standing in line, you meet the most interesting people. People tell their stories and you develop this relationship with people ... that is just kind of remarkable.”
According to Clairborne Smith her statistics reveal that the Festival enjoys a 70% return rate among its volunteers. Wow! That tid-bit is impressive. In my opinion, I would give “kudos” to Emily Aagaard, for her job as the manager of all of the Festival’s volunteers. Her vision to make sure the volunteers have a good time seems to have paid wonderful dividends. If you are interested in the volunteer program, please have a look at their website: http://www.sundance.org/festival/info/volunteering/ . There are several ways to volunteer and one way is to consider being a volunteer for 2012. There are two different levels of volunteer commitment: Sign-Up or Full-Time. In short, the Sign-Up program offers flexible scheduling in which you choose, with one film voucher for every four hours worked. Full-Time Volunteers work every day on an assigned schedule, but can see an unlimited number of films.
In response to the Festival giving credit where credit is due, the 2011 Festival honoree for the Gayle Stevens Award* for exceptional service as a volunteer was awarded to Jeff Aguirre. He is the manager of the Eccles Theatre during the Festival, and has been a volunteer for Sundance for twenty-one amazing years. Wow!
*Gayle Stevens was a volunteer for Sundance for over twenty years, raising money and awareness for the arts organization prior to her passing from a freak car accident in August of 2008. She is greatly missed but in her memory her work continues to live through others honoring the effortless endeavors of volunteerism.