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Big sponsors for Sundance

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PARK CITY — If you've attended the much-ballyhooed film festival this year or plan to attend, Robert Redford and the Sundance Institute organizers thank you very much.

(Now, a word from their sponsors . . . )

They'd really appreciate it if you'd support them by subscribing to DirecTV and watch the Sundance Channel on a new Zenith plasma screen, read about the festival in the Entertainment Weekly while drinking a refreshing Coca-Cola, purchase a 2003 Volkswagen to drive around Park City in and then e-mail all your buddies about the experience using a Hewlett Packard computer loaded with Microsoft programs.

And, if you wouldn't mind, please charge all purchases on your American Express card. Oh, yeah, and support their "sustaining" sponsors as well (Sony, AT&T, Channel 4, and the list goes on). The aforementioned companies were merely the "presenting" and "leadership" sponsors.

While Sundance hasn't reached the corporate-aided level of the Olympics or even the college football bowl system, it's evident the film festival is not nearly as independent as the films it showcases. (Rest assured, the Poulan Weedeater Sundance Film Festival presented by the Outback Steakhouse and Insight.com will not be coming to theaters near you anytime soon.)

Pat Dandonoli, Sundance's director of strategic initiative, said the institute recognizes that a "delicate balance" exists. On one hand, the nonprofit organization needs to receive corporate funding. At the same time, it doesn't want to push its sponsors' advertisements in customers' faces ad nauseam. She believes Sundance has — and will continue to — accomplish an appropriate blend that doesn't detract from the spirit of the event.

"We'll never have the 7-UP Generation Film Festival. I think there's a line in the sand there," she said. "Sundance already has an identity that has a strong image."

Call it a sign that the 25-year-old film festival is with the times. It's highly likely that Sundance would only be a ski resort in Provo Canyon if sponsors didn't open up their wallets.

"We have to rely on a variety of sources for support," Dandonoli said. "

That's especially true for the big-bucks "presenting" sponsors — EW, Zenith, VW and HP, said Sundance Institute executive director Ken Brecher. "The long-term pledges of support from our presenting sponsors help ensure that both the festival and the institute will continue to foster the growth and development of emerging artists."

Or survive, really.

Sponsorships account for about 40 percent of the festival's revenue, and that's not including goods and services they also provide. For instance, Zenith furnishes all the digital displays, Volkswagen provides official vehicles and HP supplies hardware and infrastructure support. Entertainment Weekly, a 12-year sponsor, sponsors the Premiere category, which this year includes buzz movies such as "Levity," "The Singing Detective" and "Masked and Anonymous."

You can't walk into a Sundance-related venue without nearly tripping over an Entertainment Weekly rack; they're everywhere, it seems. EW has made its presence known more than just in widely distributing its publication. It has a cafe at the Sundance House on Main Street and hosts activities throughout the 10-day event.

"The festival," said Entertainment Weekly president Andy Sareyan, "has always been a perfect match for our philanthropic agenda and our close ties to the independent film community."

Sponsors' financial support helps foot the lodging and transportation bill for participating filmmakers and funds the institute's summer filmmaking programs, laboratories and other nonprofit activities.

"Our entire sponsor community is dedicated to preserving and encouraging the unbridled creativity that is inherent in independent cinema," Brecher said. "It is refreshing to see that in this day and age, while overall support for the arts is dwindling, these companies are enthusiastic about dedicating resources to the future of independent film."

To sum Sundance up: independent films, dependent festival.

E-MAIL: jody@desnews.com