Silver, Snow, and Cinema: Park City, Utah

High in the Wasatch Mountains sits one of Utah’s true cultural jewels: Park City. Though it started as a simple mining community, Park City experienced explosive growth with the rise of the recreational winter sports industry in the mid 20th century. Currently, Park City is most well-known for hosting the Sundance Film Festival, the largest independent film festival in the United States.

The discovery of the Ontario silver deposit is what first put Park City on the map. A joint claim filed in 1872 by Herman Buden, James Kane, Rector Steen, and Augustus Dawell was the beginning of a very productive mining operation that ran up until the mid-20th century. The productivity of the mine attracted the attention of other investors. George Hearst (a mining magnate from San Francisco) purchased control on the mining operation and passed off the day-to-day management to his friend, R.C. Chambers. Under their management the mining operation flourished, and Park City experienced an economic boom as a result.

The early 20th century saw the decline of the mining industry in Park City. The multiple economic recessions and the Great Depression dealt a deadly blow to operations, and Park City was looking more and more like so many other mining boom towns in the Rocky Mountains. Park City’s savior ended up being its ideal location as a winter sport resort town. It’s unique geographical location made it a gateway to resorts in the west, and skiers and snowboarders flocked to the town. This revitalized the dying community and turned Park City into one of Utah’s premier snow sports destinations.

Today, Park City remains a staple of the winter sports industry, but its most recent claim to fame is as the host of the Sundance Film Festival. Sterling van Wagenen (a Brigham Young University film graduate) and John Earle (the head of the Utah State Film Commission) collaborated to create the festival in order to attract the film industry to Utah, bring famous filmmakers to the area, and provide a place for smaller films to reach an audience. The first festival took place in 1978, and with the help of Hollywood star Robert Redford spreading the word, its notoriety increased dramatically. Today it remains among the top worldwide film festivals, often placed together with Cannes, Venice, and Toronto in terms of importance. It’s success has significantly changed Park City from its early days as a mining capital to a hub for Hollywood elites and aspiring filmmakers.