The Sundance Film Festival draws professionals from all over the film industry to Utah once a year, but it’s not a usual hangout for high school students.
This year, however, a group of 18 Shawnee Mission Northwest International Baccalaureate film students made their way there, eager to immerse themselves in the business of film.
Shawnee Mission Northwest film and video production teacher Lindsay Kincaid spearheaded an effort to take the film students to the festival, which ended Sunday, to gain greater appreciation and knowledge about the film industry. They were the only out-of-state group of high school students to attend.
“It’s always been on my radar,” she said. “I started making the joke, ‘I’m going to take my kids to Sundance,’ and then this summer I decided, ‘Well, let me call and see if that is a joke, or if I can make it happen.’ ”
Tickets and credentials for the festival worked out to be about $200 per student, plus airfare and lodging. Kincaid said students funded their own trip and raised money by selling popcorn, working school concessions stands and having benefit nights at Culver’s.
Although they didn’t get special access passes, just being at the festival is like having a backstage pass to the film industry. Students attended eight to 10 film screenings, most of which came with commentary afterward from the director and, sometimes, the actors.
There also were independent panel discussions that focused on topics such as how the film industry is changing because of new technologies.
“We were in the happening place of America,” said 18-year-old Josh Van Auken. “It was where the film industry was taking place. It was a really electric environment, really upbeat.”
Even on the street at Sundance, you can run into famous people.
“One of the most exciting moments was probably when we met Elle Fanning,” said 17-year-old Amanda Vanderwerf. “We watched her movie the day before, and the next morning, we were walking on the main street, and we got a chance to talk with her for five minutes.”
That kind of encounter is a huge part of the Sundance experience, Kincaid said.
“There was always something to do. If you weren’t in a theater, you were trying to wait-list something, you were seeing a panel, you were doing some other interactive exhibits, or you were drinking coffee, hoping somebody famous was going to walk by,” Kincaid said.
Before and after screenings, they had casual conversations with film directors, and everywhere they went, the students were able to meet all kinds of film production folks.
“It was really encouraging for them to see how accessible people in the film industry are,” Kincaid said. “It’s not just the actors and actresses and big names. … It was eye-opening to them that these are normal people who probably went on a similar path to what they’re on right now. The film industry became less intimidating because everyone we were meeting was some part of it.”
For Kincaid, one of the highlights was asking actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt a question during a panel about his online production, HitRecord on TV.
His project sources audio, video, written words and more from thousands of online users, and Kincaid suggested he focus on high schools to do an episode where students collaborate to create the content for that installment.
“The audience all applauded when I said, ‘I’m a teacher from Kansas, and I brought 18 kids with me,’ ” Kincaid said.
The learning experience wasn’t limited to film. Kincaid said the students were learning life skills as well, as many had not spent much time in airports or on public transportation before the trip.
“It sounds silly, but one thing they figured out right away was how to be out of town — how to be independent, how to get from point A to point B on time,” said Kincaid. “I think that’s a good experience (since most are) about to go to college.”