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Atlanta makes bid to host Sundance Festival, including $2M and ‘array’ of support

The city offers financial pledge plus ‘a robust array of concessions and in-kind support to the festival;’ Festival committee is considering 15 cities to potentially relocate from Utah

FILE - The marquee of the Egyptian Theatre appears during the Sundance Film Festival, Jan. 28, 2020, in Park City, Utah. The Sundance Film Festival may not always call Park City home. The Sundance Institute has started to explore the possibility of other U.S. locations to host the independent film festival starting in 2027, the organization said Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP, File)


June 24, 2024


The city of Atlanta has finally acknowledged that it’s in the running to host the annual Sundance Film Festival starting in 2027, and is sweetening its bid with $2 million in support.


“We are honored that Atlanta is being considered as a potential host for the Sundance Film Festival in 2027 and beyond. Atlanta is where the worlds of film, entertainment, economic development, diversity and inclusion meet and grow cohesively, together,” said Mayor Andre Dickens in a news release. “We’re ready to show the Sundance Institute that Atlanta is the place where opportunities are endless, and Sundance can continue to shine.”


The city filed its proposal to the Sundance Film Festival committee, which is considering 15 cities to potentially relocate when its contract with its current home of Park City, Utah expires in 2027. Athens and Savannah are also in the running.


One of Atlanta’s competitive edges is its established film industry, supported by the state’s long-running, generous and transferable tax credit that has become Georgia’s largest corporate incentive. Over the last five years, the state has doubled its available soundstage space, with developers rushing to open space amid what had been a flood of demand, though production hasn’t rebounded as quickly as hoped since last year’s big Hollywood strikes.


The city, which has handled major events such as the 1996 Olympics and the 2019 Super Bowl, has the hotel room and event venue capacity that can easily accommodate Sundance’s expected crowds.


A news release confirming the bid said the city of Atlanta and its partners pledged $2 million in support, as well as a robust array of concessions and in-kind support to the festival. The news release did not identify what those concessions and in-kind support might entail.


The city worked with the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau and a community of leaders to prepare the city’s response to Sundance’s request for proposals.


Much of the city’s proposal is detailed in a public website, which highlights the city’s transportation network, notably Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and MARTA; the city’s abundant roster of hotels and short-term rental options; artistic institutions such as the Fox Theatre and the Woodruff Arts Center and Atlanta’s existing film festivals. Atlanta’s newly-minted status as a dining destination in the prestigious Michelin Guide is also a selling point.


The website draws attention to the city’s diversity and initiatives within the business community to accelerate racial equity. Details on Atlanta’s climate measures are also included, such as its commitment to cutting emissions by 40% by 2030 and transitioning city-owned and operated buildings to 100% clean energy over the next 11 years.


The proposal also creates a potential core hub for festival organizers, which spans 2.5 miles and encompasses three neighborhoods: Poncey-Highlands, Sweet Auburn and Little Five Points. About a dozen film screens and more than 200 restaurants, bars and event venues are included in the area. Options for hubs stretching across five-mile and 10-mile distances were also included.


Atlanta’s bid includes two economic impact estimates regarding the festival. In one scenario, looking at baseline visitation of more than 120,000 attendees, the event could attract an average of $238.2 million in net new visitor spending. In an expanded scenario, in which Atlanta provides the space for Sundance to grow to 200,000 attendees, the festival could potentially attract $392.4 million in annual spending.


The economic impact projections were determined by outside consultants, according to the website. The mayor’s press office did not respond to a request for further information on the consulting firm and their methodology by press time.


The city has also revealed the names of its host committee, stocked with city and community leaders, along with familiar industry professionals. The committee includes Metro Atlanta Chamber CEO Katie Kirkpatrick, but also Atlanta-based entertainment figures such as Eric Warren Singer, one of the screenwriters behind Top Gun: Maverick, and prolific songwriter and record producer Dallas Austin. Three Atlanta area studios also have representatives on the committee: Trilith Studios, Assembly Atlanta and Mailing Avenue Stageworks.


Comparing Georgia’s potential Sundance cities

Credit: Sundance/AJC file photos

Three Georgia cities, Atlanta, Athens and Savannah, are competing to be the home of the Sundance Film Festival.


Except for being in the same state, three Georgia cities vying for the prestigious Sundance Film Festival don’t have a lot in common in size, reputation or feel.


Atlanta, by far Georgia’s largest city and the state capitol, is diverse, business friendly and both the Hollywood and hip-hop center of the South. Athens is dominated by the University of Georgia, its football team and a vibrant local arts and music scene. Savannah is a massive tourist draw for its Southern Gothic feel, Spanish moss, fine food and pretty waterfront.


Here are comparisons, some of which the Sundance committee will consider as it ponders possibly moving from Park City, Utah in 2027. There are 15 cities in consideration nationwide, including these three cities.


POPULATION

City of Atlanta: 510,800, Atlanta metro: 6,307,261 as of July 2023

City of Athens: 96,124, Athens-Clarke County metro: 222,060 as of July, 2023

City of Savannah: 147,748, Savannah metro: 404,798 as of July ,2023

Park City/Salt Lake City: 8,396 for Park City, 1,203,00 for Salt Lake City metro as of 2020

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau


HOTEL ROOMS

Atlanta: 46,896

Athens: 2,708

Savannah: 18,591

Park City: 4,776 Salt Lake City: 13,941

SOURCE: CoStar Group


EXISTING FILM FESTIVALS

Atlanta: Atlanta Film Festival, Atlanta Underground Film Festival, Atlanta Jewish Festival, Out on Film, BronzeLens Film Festival, et. al

Athens: Athens Film Festival (debuting in 2024), Athens Short Film Festival, Athens Jewish Film Festival, EcoFocus Film Festival

Savannah: SCAD Savannah Film Festival, Mountainfilm Savannah, Savannah Jewish Film Festival

Park City/Salt Lake City: Slamdance Film Festival (besides Sundance)


MEDIAN INCOME

City of Atlanta: $83,251

Athens: $45,917

Savannah: $53,258

Park City: $132,315, Salt Lake City: $75,529

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau


HOW MANY MOVIE THEATERS?

City of Atlanta: 20 theaters with 141 screens

Athens: 7 theaters with 44 screens

Savannah: 4 theaters with 14 screens but there are spaces like the Ben Tucker Theater and Johnny Mercer Theatre that could be outfitted for films.

Park City/Salt Lake City: 3 theaters with 13 screens in Park City; 9 theaters with 40 screens in Salt Lake City


HOW FAR FROM SIZABLE AIRPORT

City of Atlanta: Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is 10 miles from downtown Atlanta

City of Athens: Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is 83 miles from downtown Athens

City of Savannah: Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport is 10 miles from downtown Savannah

Park City/Salt Lake City: Salt Lake City International Airport is 46 miles from downtown Park City and 6 miles from downtown Salt Lake City

Credit: Miguel Martinez

A view from the top of Stone Mountain at sunrise.


NOTABLE NEARBY MOUNTAINS

Georgia obviously has no real skiing options since it’s too warm even in January. Mountains here are largely for hiking.

City of Atlanta: Stone Mountain, topping at 1,686 feet above sea level

City of Athens: Nothing really close by. It’s at least an hour drive to notable North Georgia mountains like Yonah Mountain and Black Rock Mountain.

City of Savannah: None. It’s pretty darn flat. No real mountains anywhere.

Park City: There are 7,300 acres of skiable terrain at Park City Mountain with a summit peak of just over 10,000 feet.


WEATHER IN JANUARY

Atlanta: average high 52, average low 34

Athens: average high 53, average low 33

Savannah: average high 61, average low 41

Park City: average high 35, average low 14

SOURCE: The Weather Channel


MAJOR POINTS OF INTEREST

Atlanta: Centennial Olympic Park, Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, Stone Mountain, Coca-Cola Museum, Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta Botanical Garden, High Museum

Athens: The University of Georgia campus, Georgia Theatre, Sanford Stadium, Morton Theatre, State Botanical Garden of Georgia

Savannah: Savannah Historic District, Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Temple Mickvre Israel, Forsyth Park, River Street Waterfront, Fort Pulaski National Monument, Telfair Museum, nearby Tybee Island, Bonaventure Cemetery

Park City/Salt Lake City: Deer Valley Resort, Park City Mountain Resort, Temple Square, Great Salt Lake, Salt Lake Temple, Red Butte Garden, This is The Place Heritage Park


NOTABLE EATERIES

Atlanta: Atlas, Bacchanalia, Hayakawa, Lazy Betty, Mujo (each given a Michelin Star earlier this year)

Athens: Puma Yu’s, Weaver D’s, Last Resort Grill, Mama’s Boy, Cali N Titos

Savannah: Common Thread, Donna’s Delicious Delights, Garibaldi, Noble Fare, Taqueria El San Luis

Park City/Salt Lake City: Five5eeds, Twisted Fern, Tupelo Park City, Red Iguana, Arempa’s

SOURCE: Michelin, Southern Living, AJC, Eater, Yelp


PLACES TO PARTY

Atlanta: Sanctuary, Gold Room, MJC Concourse, Johnny’s Hideaway, Tongue & Groove, Havana Club ATL

Athens: 40 Watt Club, Manhattan bar, Sister Louisa’s Church, Buddha, Allgood Lounge

Savannah: Electric Moon Skytop Lounge + Moon Deck, The Alley Cat Lounge, The Peacock Lounge, Club One, The Lost Square

Park City/Salt Lake City: Downstairs, O.P Rockwell, Alpine Distilling Bar, Club X, The Exchange Nightclub

SOURCE: Yelp

Credit: AJC file

Celebrities from Georgia include actor/comedian Chris Tucker, chef Paula Deen, actor Tituss Burgess and comedian Jeff Foxworthy.


NOTABLE CELEBRITIES FROM EACH CITY

Atlanta: Chris Tucker, Jeff Foxworthy, Holly Hunter, Julia Roberts, Ryan Seacrest, Ludacris, T.I., Andre 3000, Zac Brown, Spike Lee

Athens: Tituss Burgess, NeNe Leakes, Herschel Walker, Kim Basinger

Savannah: Big Boi, Billy Currington, Johnny Mercer, Stacy Keach, Flannery O’Connor, Cindy Wilson of B-52s

Park City/Salt Lake City: Roseanne Barr, Derek and Julianne Hough, Wilford Brimley


FAMOUS FOLKS WHO HAVE MADE CITY HOME

Atlanta: Martin Luther King Jr., Usher, Shaq, Tyler Perry, Steve Harvey, Josh Brolin, Jasmine Guy

Athens: Colt Ford, Michael Stipe, Mike Mills and Bill Berry of R.E.M., David Lowery of Cracker

Savannah: Paula Deen, Gregg Allman

Park City/Salt Lake City: Michael Jordan, Katherine Heigl, Will Smith, Johnny Carson, Graham Russell of Air Supply


DISTINCTIVE DRAWS THE GEORGIA CITIES HAVE THAT PARK CITY DOES NOT

Atlanta: Hub of civil rights movement, Dirty South hip hop culture, corporate headquarters to Coca-Cola, Delta, Home Depot, heavy tree canopy

Athens: Big college town, active bar scene, lots of artsy local businesses, cool local music

Savannah: Lovely beaches, ties to “Forrest Gump” and “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” massive presence of SCAD, the city’s picturesque historic squares


Atlanta’s Sundance Film Festival host committee


The city of Atlanta identified its host committee for its pitch to win the prestigious Sundance Film Festival. They are:


Lamar Stewart, Project Manager, City of Atlanta


Odie Donald II, Chief of Staff for Mayor Andre Dickens, City of Atlanta


Candace Stanciel, Chief Equity Officer, City of Atlanta


Chandra Farley, Chief Sustainability Officer, City of Atlanta


Cardellia Hunter, Director of Office of Film & TV, City of Atlanta


Ebony Barley, Director, Special Event, City of Atlanta


Greg Clay, Director, Constituent Services, City of Atlanta


Soloman Caviness, Commissioner of Transportation, City of Atlanta


Rayna Plummer, Deputy Press Secretary, City of Atlanta


Katie Kirkpatrick, President & CEO, Atlanta Metro Chamber


Clyde Higgs, President & CEO, Atlanta Beltline, Inc.


Andrew Wilson, EVP & CMO, Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau


Jo Ann Haden-Miller, Senior Director, Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau; Board Member, Atlanta Film Society


Hala Moddelmog, President & CEO, Woodruff Arts Center


Kevin Green, President & CEO, Midtown Alliance Community Improvement District


Kenny Blank, Executive & Artistic Director, Atlanta Jewish Film Society


Jermaine Johnson, Manager, 3 Arts Entertainment


Steven Cohen, Partner & Agent, United Talent Agency


Terri Vaughn, Director & Actress, Nina Holiday Productions


Elaine Hendrix, Actress


Eric Warren Singer, Screenwriter


Deborah Riley Draper, Filmmaker


Rob Hardy, Director, Amazing Stories Foundation


Christopher Escobar, Executive Director, Atlanta Film Society; Owner, Plaza & Tara Theatres


Hilton Howell III, President & CEO, Gray Television/Assembly Atlanta


Frank Patterson, President & CEO, Trilith Studios


Brennen Dicker, Executive Director, Center for Media Industries Institute at Georgia State University


Steve Wiezenecker, Partner, Barnes & Thornburg


Dallas Austin, Producer, Dallas Austin Foundation


Kennard Garrett, Chairman & Board Trustee, The Recording Academy


Tyler Edgarton, Managing Partner, Mailing Avenue Stageworks; Co-Owner, GA Prop Source & Scenario Custom Scenery; Board Chair, Atlanta Film Society

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