By Merrie Sue Holtan, Published January 15 2014
The Sundance woman: MSUM director of health volunteers each January at film festival
It also played to packed crowds at the Fargo Theatre. Mary and Carol Helms, fourth- and fifth-graders at the time, stood in line to buy tickets to see the movie – 14 times.
“It really showed me the power of film,” says Carol (Helms) Grimm, director of health and wellness at Minnesota State University Moorhead. “OMG. I’ll never forget the opening when the Beatles hit the stage running right at us.”
Her love of the big screen has led her to a 14-year stint each January as a volunteer – along with her sister who now lives in Omaha, Neb. – at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Carol has also served on the board of the Fargo Theatre for six years.
THE SUNDANCE BACKDROP
In 1848, Mormon pioneers first explored the mountainous area at 7,000 feet above sea level, 30 miles southeast of Salt Lake City.
Today Park City, population of 8,000, hosts millions of tourists a year including the 45,000 patrons of the Sundance Film Festival held for two weeks each January.
In 1981, actor Robert Redford set out to provide a venue in this remote natural setting for independent film artists to explore and take creative risks without commercial and political pressure. The Sundance Film Foundation and Festival discovers and develops these artists from across the globe.
This year, Mary and Carol will volunteer starting on Tuesday for the second week of the festival. Mary first attended Sundance in 1998 and says she was worn out from seeing all the films and wanted to become a part of the festival. She then convinced her sister to join her.
“I work parties (sometimes of 2,000 people) and special events, and my sister works passes and packages,” Carol says. “There are many parties, opening, closing, street parties, invitation only events, but the final award party is a lot of fun. I serve as a crowd liaison, setting up, taking down, and I’ve learned a new skill – tying very attractive tablecloths.”
One year the pair worked a big private party, where Carol ended up at coat check and made $70 in tips.
“We went out to a fancy restaurant and paid with one-dollar bills,” Mary recalls.
Carol explains that volunteers have to apply in the fall and be 18 years old.
She works alongside college students, interns, Park City locals and people from all over the country. Shifts can be from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. Veteran volunteers can pick their venues, and Carol has been at the Prospector Theatre for about 10 years.
“Park City is not a large town,” Carol says. “Movie venues are everywhere, libraries, school, theaters, civic buildings and hotels. We receive training in person and online to let us know what is new each year. It’s all about excellent customer service.”
Volunteers pay their own transportation and housing but receive tickets/vouchers to see films and “tons of stuff including really cool jackets.”
Depending on the year, Carol will see up to eight films. Her most memorable have been, “The Station Agent,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Maria Full of Grace,” “Blair Witch Project,” and “Way Way Back.”
One year, Carol sat next to film critic Roger Ebert, whom she describes as great to talk to and a “real regular guy.”
Another time she worked a film venue, and a gentleman approached her and said, “I realize I have my daughter’s tickets and need to bring them to her. Will you recognize me when I come back?”
“I certainly will, Mr. Vice President,” Carol said. “It was VP Al Gore there to support his film, ‘Inconvenient Truth.’ He was very gracious and humble.”
This year, Carol has the documentary “Ivory Tower,” about higher education on her must-see list as well as “Rudderless,” a feature film with William H. Macy.
RETURN TO REAL LIFE
Carol, the oldest of six siblings, graduated from Shanley High School, where she learned community activism from her mother and concern for social justice issues from the sisters who taught at the school. This deep background led her to North Dakota State University, where she majored in Social Studies education and worked for Campus Attractions, where she brought in films, acts, coffeehouse entertainment and programming for students.
After a brief stint teaching, Carol became the volunteer and public education coordinator as a Vista volunteer for the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center, which turned into a full-time position for 16 years.
“I wanted to get active in something related to women’s issues,” Carol says. “It was a driving force for me.”
Carol earned a graduate degree in management from the University of Mary.
She spent the next 10 years at Fargo Cass Public Health as Director of Health Promotions, working with such issues as family planning and sexually transmitted diseases. In 2008, she became the director of Health and Wellness at MSUM.
“I see the biggest changes for college students in the area of mental health,” Carol says. “Students with mental health issues have more pharmaceuticals available to them, so they are now able to attend college. We are there to help them manage that and the stress.”
“I like volunteering for Sundance because it is so different from my real life,” Carol says. “If you like film, Sundance is the place to be. It’s a celebration of film – upbeat, exciting, and an electric environment.”