SALT LAKE CITY — In the wake of sexual assault allegations that have stunned Hollywood and the nation, the Sundance Film Festival has revised its code of conduct to include new guidelines aimed at preventing sexual misconduct during the festival’s Jan. 18-28 run in Park City.
The festival has also partnered for the first time with the Utah Attorney General’s Office to provide a 24-hour live hotline to report violations of the policy.
Leo Lucey, chief of investigations for the Utah Attorney General’s Office, said law enforcement agents are expecting an uptick in the reporting of sexual harassment and assault at this year’s festival.
Lucey points out that more reporting doesn’t mean more harassment is taking place. Rather, law enforcement expects that in the current climate of heightened sensitivity to this issue, people will feel more comfortable reporting incidents when they do occur.
“This kind of behavior is not going to be tolerated,” Lucey told the Deseret News. “The state of Utah takes this issue very seriously and law enforcement is committed to keeping everyone at the festival safe.”
The new code of conduct, posted within the past week on the Sundance Festival website and app, states that Sundance is committed to allowing attendees an experience “free of harassment, discrimination and threatening or disrespectful behavior.”
It also states that the festival reserves the right to revoke credentials or access to festival events to “those that engage in such conduct.”
“Safety and security remain our top priority,” said Betsy Wallace, managing director of the Sundance Institute. “By increasing our communication with festivalgoers around our existing code of conduct, we are making sure our longstanding values of inclusivity and respect are front and center.”
Setting the standard
The new policy comes more than three months after allegations of sexual assault and harassment against Hollywood mega-producer Harvey Weinstein first came to light.
Since October 2017, more than 90 women have come forward to accuse Weinstein of sexual harassment, assault or rape — and many of these incidents were alleged to have occurred at film festivals, including two during Sundance events.
Former actor and screenwriter Louisette Geiss appeared at an Oct. 10 news conference with prominent women's rights attorney Gloria Allred, accusing Weinstein of exposing himself to her in a Park City hotel in 2008.
The New York Times' initial report mentioned that Weinstein reached an out-of-court settlement with Rose McGowan, then a 23-year-old actor, after an episode during the 1997 Sundance Film Festival.
Sundance is the largest independent film festival in the United States and the first major festival since the Weinstein story broke. How festival organizers and attendees react to a scandal, which has shaken the entertainment industry to its core, could set a standard for festivals and events to follow.
The code of conduct is the Sundance Institute’s latest response to the Weinstein allegations.
In a public statement issued in October, the Sundance Institute and Film Festival called the accusations against Weinstein “abhorrent and profoundly disturbing” and praised the “courageous women whose honesty has helped shed a light on (a pattern of abuse.)”
"Harvey Weinstein has not applied for credentials to the upcoming festival, and, were he to apply he would be denied," said Keri Putnam, executive director of the Sundance Institute.
Putnam added that others who have been accused of sexual misconduct could also be turned away.
Kevin Spacey, who in 2000 received the festival’s Piper-Heidsieck Tribute to Independent Vision, has since been accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old actor in the 1980s.
Director James Toback, whose documentary on boxer Mike Tyson was showcased at the 2009 Sundance Festival, has been accused by dozens of women of harassment and assault.
"We take the allegations against these men very seriously," Putnam said. "Should other similar determinations need to be made, we will carefully review the matter at hand and pursue a course of action which is fair and consistent with our values as an organization."
Prime breeding grounds
Diana Whitten, a Utah-based filmmaker and the head of the Utah chapter of Film Fatales, a supportive community for women filmmakers, said film festivals can be prime breeding grounds for sexual misconduct.
Film festivals provide an invaluable opportunity for industry professionals to make the connections that can bring projects to life, Whitten said. But this can create a power dynamic in which “filmmakers and talent are at the mercy of financiers” who have the resources to make — or break — their careers.
“Unfortunately, many of the men who hold this power have been inclined to take advantage of it,” she said. “Up to now, they have been protected by a good old boys club that intimidated women into silence. But now that’s changing.”
She adds that space is limited and important meetings often occur in intimate spaces like hotel rooms. And while meeting rooms might be in short supply, free alcohol is widely available.
At the 2016 Sundance Festival, a New York City couple was accused of giving a Utah woman alcohol and drugs before sexually assaulting her in their Park City hotel room. The case was later dismissed.
“There can be a Vegas-like attitude at film festivals: what happens at a film festival stays a film festival,” Whitten said. “That can inspire people to leave behind both their inhibitions and their responsibilities.”
The Utah Film Commission, the state agency that oversees movie and TV production in Utah, instituted a policy that mandates any film production using the commission’s resources must have a workplace-harassment policy in place.
The commission provides networking and tax incentives to an industry that spent $66 million in the state in the last fiscal year. They support local filmmakers, as well as encouraging key industry players to shoot their films in the Utah.
Virginia Pearce, the commission’s director, said that sexual assault and harassment are not unique to film festivals, or to the film industry.
“This is an issue I want to address personally and professionally,” said Pearce. “It’s not just the film industry — every industry needs to look at their policies towards sexual harassment.”
Sexual harassment on screen
Several films at the festival will touch on issues of harassment, assault and women’s safety.
“Half the Picture” takes a close look at the impact of sexism on Hollywood hiring practices.
“Seeing Allred” is a documentary profile of lawyer Gloria Allred, who represents women who have accused Bill Cosby and Donald Trump of sexual assault.
There will also be documentary profiles of women in powerful positions in various industries, including Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and actor Jane Fonda.
The festival is also planning several panels and events that will focus on this issue.
On Jan. 22, The New York Times will host a panel featuring Jodi Kantor, the reporter who broke the Weinstein story.
Geralyn Dreyfous, founder of the Utah Film Center, said that 427 Main Street in Park City will be known as “Safe Space,” a venue specifically designated for discussion around issues of sexual harassment, assault and power in the entertainment industry.
According to Dreyfous, a rally is expected to take place in Park City on Jan. 21 in conjunction with the Women’s March, followed by a luncheon, media presentation and panel discussion held at Safe Space.
“We have a huge amount of momentum,” said Dreyfous. “There’s a big shift happening, a movement forming — one that’s not going to go away.”