As we celebrate 25 years of bringing independent cinema to Summit County, we’re taking a look back at where we started and how we got to where we are now. Throughout our birthday month we’ll post more chapters of our history, so please check back each week!
With the local art house theater garnering such a warm reception from the community, Park City Arts Council’s executive director and board members worked with Greg Tanner, then owner of Salt Lake City’s Tower Theatre, to program and screen more independent films.
Among the board members enticed by this project was an attorney and newcomer from California, Frank Normile.
“I like to say that the Park City Arts Council created the Park City Film Series, and Frank Normile perfected it,” said Joanna Charnes the Park City Arts Council’s founding executive director.
Frank went from volunteering at the Film Series to assuming the role of chair in 1997. In addition to choosing and screening films, one of his first responsibilities was to incorporate the Film Series as standalone charitable non-profit organization, a process which was finalized in 1999.
Popular films from the Sundance Film Festival were frequently showcased in the Film Series’ lineup, alongside independent and foreign language films from other top tier film festivals. The films were selected by Frank, members of the Board, and Destiny Grose, a local film guru, and popular resource for locals selecting their Sundance festival movies.
Choosing which films to program, however, was only half the challenge. Until as recently as 2015, all films came on bulky 35 mm film reels, and in the early days of the Film Series, that often meant Frank had to drive movies up from the Tower Theatre, or even the freight terminal of the airport. Those last-minute runs could translate into showtime delays, especially when snowstorms hampered traffic back up Parley’s Canyon.
Under Frank’s leadership, defining aspects of the Film Series evolved. Local businesses donated items to be given away during the pre-show raffle, more screening times were added making Park City Film Series a weekly event, including Sunday nights. And the famous Film Series tag line “What Locals Do in the Dark” was born.
Arguably the most memorable aspect of the Film Series for most of the 2000s, however, was Frank Normile himself.
“He ran the films kind of like a ringmaster at a circus,” said former PCFS Board President Dell Fuller. “That was half the fun of going to the movies: to see Frank perform beforehand. He was kind of melodramatic and theatrical.”
Frank’s big personality became synonymous with the Film Series, an impression that was reinforced with decisions to include the now legendary Chicken in can and large cans of spicy chili, left over from the 2002 Winter Olympics, in the pre-show raffle.
Other community members also left their mark on the organization.
Former PCFS board member Matt Hutchinson saw an opportunity when he noticed other Parkites at independent ski movie screenings down in Salt Lake City.
“I remember there being some discussion, maybe resistance to that idea [of bringing ski movies to the Film Series], maybe because there was a perception that it wasn’t really art,” said Hutchinson. “I just thought they would be well-attended and appreciated.”
The Film Series took a chance, and ski movies are now a permanent part of the Fall program and a signal to the community to wax their skis and get stoked for winter.
Theater improvements came to the Film Series as the film industry transformed, thanks largely to the ongoing partnership and support from the Sundance Institute. In the beginning, the theater ran 35mm films with stereo sound; Dolby surround sound was installed in 2001. The pre-film slideshow graduated from physical slides to digital ones. Less technological, but much appreciated, new theater seats replaced the pre-WWII wooden ones in 2004.
George Dymalski, Technical Director for Park City Film Series for 20 years and later lead programmer, championed the collective knowledge and experience at the Film Series as a community asset. So, in addition to leading the film projection each weekend and insuring a high quality viewing experience for patrons, he built the organization’s website and painstakingly transcribed years of paper movie calendars into a searchable resource.
“When people rent movies, they always want something that played at the Film Series. Nobody had really considered that as [valuable] info, and I thought, boy, this would be great!” he said of the project.
Thanks to George’s foresight, the Film Series archives are available on the website going back to 1998!