Draconian transphobic laws quickly made their way through the Utah legislature, passing both chambers during the 2024 Sundance Film Festival.
I wish I didn’t have to write this. It’s really unfortunate that it has come to writing yet another piece about the transphobic attacks on rights. I guess I could say that I saw it coming a year ago on what was the penultimate day of Sundance. The transphobic laws continued this year with some of the most draconian laws this side of North Carolina HB 2 in 2016. Remember all the outrage that resulted from that? Why is Utah not dealing with the same outrage? Why is there so much silence from the companies that sponsor the Sundance Film Festival? Do they not care about trans individual or do they not wish to alienate conservative members of the audience? Why is the general response to HB 257 so silent compared to HB 2?
I did a Google search for Sundance and transgender. I found mentions of ACLU and GLAAD having panels or podcast recordings. No official statements could be found from CEO Joana Vicente or Film Festival Director Eugene Hernandez. I know that Vicente was in conversation with Matt Belloni for a podcast recording. Negotiations with Park City did come up. As I mention below, I asked twice for statements and it’s been nothing but crickets. It’s possible that something was said during the Will and Harper screenings but again, I cannot find anything other than film reviews. Transgender filmmakers might be thinking twice about submitting their films for next year’s Sundance. I know that I’d look elsewhere if I had a film to submit.
Sundance pumps millions into the Park City economy, let alone Utah in general. The 2020 economic impact was huge, especially for a year that saw many places closing due to the pandemic. Given how much businesses make, the festival probably helped keep many afloat.
The report showed the festival in 2020 contributed $167.5 million to the state’s gross domestic product and generated $88 million in wages in the state. There were approximately 117,000 people in attendance…nearly $63.4 million in lodging, with people from outside of Utah accounting for the entire amount.
The 2023 festival was different in that it was a hybrid model. This had a substantial impact on attendance last year. Much like this year, a large number of films were offered virtually while others were exclusively for a theatrical setting. I’ll be curious to see how the numbers compare between 2023 and 2024. Key takeaways from the 2023 economic impact:
- 86,824 people attending in person with 138,050 in-person ticket/passes redeemed.
- An estimated 75% of attendees were Utah residents (about 65,400 individuals) while 25% came from out-of-state (about 21,400 individuals).
- Approximately 21,400 of the attendees were visitors from out of state. These out-of-state visitors spent an estimated $97 million in Utah during the festival.
- Utahns spent $29 million. People coming to the state spent around $97 million during their stay, not including purchases of tickets to the festival.
- $118.3 million in Utah gross domestic product
- 1,608 jobs for Utah residents
- $63 million in Utah wages
- $12.8 million in state and local tax revenue
I was one of the 2.7% non-Utah residents that was in town for all 11 days of Sundance 2023, flying in on Wednesday and leaving on Monday morning. That’s a lot of money being spent on lodging, food, and especially Uber and Lyft costs. By the end of the festival, I was taking in more virtual offerings than in-person. You have Paramount+ sending out Star Trek: Picard screeners for staying at the Airbnb rather than leave for a theatrical screening. Should Sundance leave Utah over the draconian attacks on transgender rights–which they should–it would be a big blow to Park City businesses. Riverhorse on Main owner Chef Seth Adams told ABC4 that they’ll “bring in tens of thousands of dollars in just [a] week.”
HB 257 defines male and female not by gender identity but by anatomy. It impacts all government-owned facilities and public schools. This includes a pair Sundance venues under my interpretation of the law. Of course, I fully expect LGBTQ rights groups and other organizations to file lawsuits upon Utah Governor Spencer Cox’s signature. Perhaps he’ll veto it and send a strong message to legislators like he did when he voted the trans athlete ban. The legislators overrode it and lawsuits were subsequently filed. If criminal activities in the restroom are a serious problem in Utah, target the criminals, not attacking trans individuals.
Both GLAAD and the ACLU were on the ground during this year’s festival. GLAAD‘s Director of Transgender Representation Alex Schmider put it bluntly during a panel spotlighting transgender storytellers.
“If this bill becomes law, by next year, Sundance 2025…the people you will see on this stage will have to make decisions about their safety in order to be here. Many already are. It’s incumbent on all of us to speak out against this anti-trans legislation that not only endangers trans people, but anyone who is suspected of knowing their gender better than Utah’s government.”
Despite protests in Salt Lake City, HB 257 went to the Utah Senate, where the bill was reworked. Unfortunately, some changes were reversed as it went back to the Utah House for final passage. While the bill doesn’t impact private businesses, it impacts all government-owned facilities and public schools. Sundance would have to replace the Eccles Center and Park City Library as a venues. The final removes the draconian criminal penalties from the initial passage in the House but it still places trans individuals “at risk” per Sen. Dan McCay. Unless those individuals are there to commit crimes, which I assure you that almost all of us just want to use the restroom! This legislation is unnecessary because it’s about not about what they claim it to be about. It’s about targeting transgender rights.
Over a week ago, I penned a piece on the transphobic legislation (click the Transgender tag below to read). In doing so, I reached out to the Sundance Press Office and asked about a statement came. Nothing but crickets in response. The same thing a few days later in response to another email asking press about Sundance wrap pieces and quotes from Sundance leadership. Again, I asked for comment and received nothing in return. This is the same Sundance that named Trans Possibilities Intensive Fellows in 2023. Slamdance co-founder Dan Mirvish did tweet about the legislation. Could Slamdance move out of Park City? We’ll see what happens.
As a transgender film journalist, the lack of an official statement from the Sundance Institute or Sundance Film Festival on HB 257 is all the more reason why I’ll never cover another Sundance. The bill won’t impact many cisgender people attending Sundance but it has a tremendous impact on trans individuals such as myself. I should not have to take personal safety concerns into account on deciding if I’ll attend a film festival. And yet, here we are once again. It’s bad enough that I can’t attend SXSW in the future because of the Texas attacks on trans rights, let alone other draconian attacks on various rights. Many rights groups have taken the Texas matter up with the United Nations. I’ll attend festivals in states that actually give a damn about transgender rights, provided they do not conflict with major Jewish holidays.
Please subscribe to Solzy at the Movies on Buttondown.