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Sarah Pearce and Laurie Hopkins: Taking Center Stage

Peri Kinder

January 1, 2013

While most people associate the Sundance Institute with movie stars jet-setting to Park City for a couple of weeks in January, the organization has a much broader reach than just the film festival. It takes an active role in advancing the work of independent artists and storytellers worldwide.

It’s been more than 20 years since Jill Miller took up the role as managing director for the Sundance Institute, but in January she stepped down from her position, handing the reins to two co-managing directors, Sarah Pearce and Laurie Hopkins. By splitting the position, the institute hopes to create a wide restructure in the organization, combining resources and creating an international synergy.

“We have it set up in a way that makes sense to us,” Pearce says. “Our focus is global because 30 to 35 percent of the artists involved in our programs are not Americans.”

The organization, started by Robert Redford in 1981, has grown to be much more than a 10-day film festival nestled in the mountains of Park City. The Sundance Institute has evolved into a vibrant organization committed to discovering and developing independent artists and audiences across the globe.

Pearce’s role will involve overseeing operations and Utah community relations, including the Sundance Film Festival, the Sundance London Film and Music Festival, and the organization’s lab operations. After working as the festival’s director of operations for more than 13 years, Pearce has demonstrated a commitment to growth, allowing the organization to develop around its many programs.

Hopkins joined the Sundance team in 2006 after working for 15 years in private and nonprofit sectors. Her role will be to manage the vast administrative tasks that come with a world-wide operation. Hopkins’ oversight will include legal, human resources, organizational planning, metrics and office administration. She most recently worked as the director of budgeting and administration, where she supervised grant analysis and managed the institute’s operating budget.

The Sundance Institute provides year-round support for filmmakers, offering a series of workshops and labs for screenwriters, composers, producers, directors and documentarians. Signature workshops include script refinement, how to work with actors, how to compose music for a film, creating short films and teaching the next generation of directors and producers. A Native American Program allows for growth among indigenous filmmakers by hosting events throughout the year.

“A lot of the artists that go through our programs might move onto other parts of the program,” Pearce says. “Some might even make it to through to the festival.”

In order to coordinate the different aspects of the institute, several specialized offices are located around the country. The New York office works with artists interested in theater production or documentaries, the Los Angeles location is a communications base, and the Utah office administers and oversees all the programs.

As co-managing directors, Pearce and Hopkins will work closely with community leaders, state and local officials, and government agencies at all levels to continue building the Sundance Institute’s role in the community. The festival is a huge boon for the state, bringing in $80 million during the 2012 event, but many things play a role in the festival’s success, especially fostering a good relationship with the Park City community and its leaders.

“We go through an intensive process after the festival where we get feedback from everyone involved and we listen carefully to what the media, filmmakers, staff and community are telling us,” Hopkins says. “There’s a great sense of philanthropy and a strong business community in the state. It’s my job to make sure there’s the support these people need to get their work done.”

At the core of their positions, Hopkins and Pearce will continue doing what Sundance always done: building an independent film society, introducing people to new stories and ideas, engaging the public and supporting artists worldwide.

“Laurie and I have worked really well together over the last six years,” Pearce says. “To continue to work together in these roles will be amazing.”

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