March 30, 1995 marks the first time a movie was screened in the Jim Santy Auditorium by the Park City Film Series. Since then, we have screened over 1,500 films and we remain Summit County’s only non-profit Art House Cinema. We are, and always have been, about bringing our community together through film.
As we celebrate 25 years of bringing independent film to Summit County, we’re taking a look back at where we started and how we got to where we are now. Throughout April we’ll post more chapters of our history, so please check back each week!
It all began with a question.
It was 1994: The Carl Winters Building had just been renovated by Park City Municipal, and the Sundance Film Festival was looking to expand its screening venues.
According to Joanna Charnes, founding executive director of the Park City Arts Council, “Sundance approached [the Arts Council], and said, ‘We need more venue space for Sundance. We would like to take over the Jim Santy Auditorium, but we need an entity to provide the volunteer ticket takers, theatre managers, and ushers, and also to sell concessions…in return, we’ll give you a couple of films that you can show to the locals once Sundance is over.’”
The nascent Arts Council jumped at the chance to partner, and in 1995, board members and volunteers were the first to fully staff the Sundance Film Festival’s new Library Theater venue.
And, as promised, Sundance arranged a deal with Miramax Films to donate a couple movies to be screened to Parkites after the festival.
“It was thrilling to show a film après Sundance to locals in a local building, a civic building,” said Charnes.
“That was the genesis of the Park City Film Series,” she said.
According to an announcement in The Park Record, the first meeting of the Park City Film Society was scheduled to map out plans in February 1995.
“[We] had to lobby the city, city council, and the mayor, and convince them that it was a good thing to do,” said Joanna. “Film is a wonderful, inexpensive way for people to come together, culturally and socially.”
The Arts Council also had to assure the local commercial cinema, Holiday Village Theaters, that they would only show independent, foreign and repertory films (collectively categorized as “Art House” fare), to avoid competition.
Within two months, the Park City Arts Council/Park City Film Society presented its first film as the Park City Film Series. According to the March 23, 1995 edition of The Park Record, that very first movie was the 1939 classic The Women, starring Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell.
The Cuban film, Fresa y Chocolate (Strawberry and Chocolate), a hit at Sundance that had also received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language film, kicked off the Film Series’s first Sundance film screening Friday, April 7, 1995. Picture Bride, a Sundance audience award winner, followed the next night.
The community immediately embraced the independent film offerings, said Dell Fuller, then Arts Council board member and co-founder of the Park City Film Society/Park City Film Series.
“We really had a lot of fun doing it, and we realized the community so enjoyed alternative films, that showing Sundance-type films on an on-going basis would satisfy an interest and need in the community,” he added.
Park City Arts Council board members made up the bulk of the unpaid staff as the fledgling art house project took flight. Katherine Scott Henney, Arts Council Chair, and Dell Fuller, rallied and stepped into roles of assistant theater manager and theater manager respectively; Laine Fuller became the concessions manager.
Park City Film Series offered screenings only once per quarter at first. It wasn’t long, however, before the Arts Council knew a dedicated person was needed to take the lead in a more formal capacity and expand the project into its own non-profit organization.