Highstyle Profile

Since its founding in 1978, the Sundance Film Festival has been inextricably linked to both Park City and the ethos of independent film. However, as many a Parkite will tell you, there’s much more to Park City’s love for all things film than the famed winter celeb-fest — from the Park City Film Series (now Park City Film) to the annual Filmmaker’s Showcase.

And the one thing all these cinematic endeavors have in common? The presence and passion of Jill Orschel, independent filmmaker, creative mentor, photographer, film projectionist, and arts advocate extraordinaire.

“I got involved with Sundance right away as a volunteer, and then as a staff photographer,” says Jill of her move to Park City from Aspen in 1990. “Being around the summer Lab programs [at the Sundance Institute] and film festivals really lit a fire in me. The experience fed my soul.” Through her work, she discovered a calling for independent filmmaking and took to heart Robert Redford’s legendary advice to filmmakers: “Have a strong vision about the story you want to tell and how you want to tell it.”

In addition to working at Sundance, Jill ran the 35 mm film projector for Park City Film — from their inaugural 1995 season to 2019 — and founded and directed Park City Film’s annual Filmmaker’s Showcase, where Utah filmmakers of all ages and backgrounds can share their work with a live audience. “I want to give local filmmakers the opportunity to show their films on the big screen, but the most important thing is to bring filmmakers together under one roof,” she says, noting that this often leads to creative collaborations.

Building on her background in journalism, small-town radio and television, and ski videography, Jill also earned a Master of Fine Arts from The University of Utah and taught film history and theory.

Each of these community   contributions parallel her true love: documentary filmmaking. In her work, Jill shares the stories and experiences of her subjects through a lens of compassion and empathy, bringing viewers into moments of intense vulnerability and raw emotion in a way that feels spontaneous and real.

Jill shares clips from her current project, Snowland, a feature-length documentary about Cora, a woman who lived most of her life in the southern Utah polygamist community of Colorado City/Hildale and became a plural wife at age 14.

Cora is related to DoriAnn, the subject of Jill’s film Sister Wife, which was an official selection at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and a jury winner at the SXSW Film Festival, among other accolades. In Snowland, Jill shares a glimpse into Cora’s imaginative world, creating a fantasy-driven story that includes colored drawings and costume designs. It’s a project Jill has spent eight years working on, because a relationship had to be built and Cora couldn’t be rushed into sharing her experiences.

“Three years into [filming], she’s telling me in a really personal, delicate, beautiful way about feelings that you could only share after a long time of knowing somebody. She’s talking to me because we trust one another.” Jill weaves these interview clips with intimate, present-day family scenes, mesmerizing stop-motion animation featuring Snowland illustrations, archival photos, and ephemera from Cora’s life, all accompanied by surreal, haunting music.

Jill sums up her primary goal with Snowland and other film projects: “I aim to show new perspectives of our world in authentic, meaningful, and provocative ways.” She says with a wry laugh, “It excites me to stir people’s imaginations.”