40 Years of Volunteers: Meet Festival Volunteer Sarah Brockman

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Dedicated volunteers from across the country have generously devoted their time and commitment to the Sundance Film Festival over the last 40 years. Now, as we gear up for the 2024 Festival, we’re putting the spotlight on them with our volunteer questionnaire. Because, like our volunteers, each memory is special and unique. 

Sarah Brockman started volunteering at the Sundance Film Festival through a program at her college. Now, she’s thriving as a professional in the film industry — but no experience has topped her time on the mountain.    

“To this day, even working in film and TV, volunteering at Sundance is the highlight of my year. Nothing compares to the connections made and stories shared in those theaters on the side of a snowy mountain.”

Going on her sixth year, Brockman suggests that incoming volunteers and audiences should try to catch the films that might fly under the radar. 

“It means a lot to filmmakers who have put so much time in, but may not have as much word of mouth as others. These are where so many of my favorite films have come from!”

Below, discover what made Brockman want to start volunteering and advice she would give her younger self as a first-timer:  

What made you want to volunteer at the Sundance Film Festival?

The chance to go to a film festival for four days sounded way more fun than working [at] a local event, and I’d loved several movies that came out of Sundance, so I jumped at the opportunity. On that trip, I immediately made friends with my fellow student volunteers and staff at Temple Theatre in Park City. The energy and excitement for storytelling, the willingness to trudge through four feet of snow (ah, the blizzard of 2010!) to see a documentary, patrons’ faces lighting up in line as strangers connected over their love for film — I loved all of it. Four days wasn’t nearly long enough, and when I had the chance to return in 2012 for the entire Festival, I jumped at the chance to join my friends in the snow again.

Describe your first time volunteering. What did it feel like stepping into that role?

Both strange and natural. There’s not much time between orientation and your first shift, but the theater managers and team handled everything so smoothly. It was like we’d been working together for weeks, not hours!

What compels you to continue volunteering year after year?

I love working in entertainment, but with the speed of deadlines and focus on data, demographics, and earnings, it’s often easy to forget why many of us in the industry were drawn to work in film and TV in the first place. Going to Sundance each year feels like a reset — a reminder of what it’s like to be around film lovers rather than box office totals, around creativity rather than profits, around stories rather than content. I always leave with a renewed sense of purpose and a list of films I can’t wait to share with friends when they’re released!

Tell us one of your favorite memories volunteering at Sundance.

Volunteers have to be at the theaters early to set up. If you have a morning shift, that can be 7:30 a.m.. When I was working at Prospector last year, I became friends with Niall Cassin, who happened to be in the same volunteer housing as I was. Halfway through the Festival, we began walking to the theater, and it gave us a chance to explore Park City in the beauty of the early morning before the sunrise and the crowds. It’s a habit I plan to repeat this year!

What do you think the best part about being a Sundance Film Festival volunteer is?

Being a part of making such a special event happen. As much as I love watching films, I love bringing the film community together to celebrate filmmakers and share stories even more. It’s a fleeting experience but one that stays with everyone who attends.

Can you tell us about some of the friendships you’ve made at Sundance over the years?

One year, while volunteering at Temple, I met Rena McGregor, who had flown in from London to volunteer. We were working the waitlist line (back when it was paper tickets and not the waitlist app), and our friendship was immediate. By the end of the first shift, we were cracking jokes, laughing, and conversing with patrons. Our connection made the waitlist line, which can sometimes be a stressful experience for patrons waiting to get in and volunteers working it, a joy-filled experience that made our shifts fly by.

Rena and I met in 2013 and have stayed in regular contact ever since. She’s hosted me in London for vacations and business trips, and she is always the highlight of my travels there. 

If you could go back in time and give advice to your younger self getting ready for your first year of volunteering, what would you say?

Drink more water! Altitude sickness is real, and no matter how good you are at power-walking around campus, the elevation will affect you!

Out of all the staff/volunteer jackets you’ve received, which one is your favorite?

The zip-off sleeves and hood [2010 Sundance Film Festival] were such a good design for indoor/outdoor volunteering!

What’s your favorite movie to come out of Sundance?

Under the Shadow (2016 Sundance Film Festival)! I was not a big fan of horror when I first saw it (which has changed), but it was such a perfect combination of physical, societal, and supernatural threats woven together to create a compelling narrative that I fell in love with it anyway. This film set in the past has so many parallels to the experiences of war and extremism that many parts of the world experience today, which adds another layer to the horror — the horror that such a story can happen again if we are not careful to protect against it. To this day, I recommend it to people, especially every Halloween season.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to a first-time volunteer at the Festival?

You will be tempted to sacrifice food and sleep in order to do everything. Doing that once or twice during the Festival is fine, but make sure to rest up and eat well! If you don’t, altitude sickness and germs will get you, and then you’ll be out of commission for even longer.

What does Sundance mean to you?

It’s a home, a family, a reset, and an escape. I look forward to it every year and can’t wait to come back for 2024!

Check back regularly for more volunteer stories leading up to the Festival this January. And if you’re interested in joining the team, check out our volunteer opportunities here.

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