A handful of Louisvillians help bring a little Kentucky to Sundance each year

Nicole Twigg (of the LCVB) passes out bourbon truffles at the Kentucky Party. | Courtesy of Louisville Film Society

For the past few years, a handful of Louisvillians — and Kentuckians — in the film industry have brought a piece of the commonwealth to the frozen slopes of Park City, Utah, during the annual Sundance Film Festival. The group throws a bash known simply as “The Kentucky Party,” introducing actors, producers, directors and film executives to the fruits of our labor — bourbon, music, cuisine and the perfect backdrop to film a movie.

This year’s party, which took place on Monday, Jan. 23, was no different. The Woodford Reserve and Old Forester were flowing like the Ohio, recalls Louisville Film Society executive director Soozie Eastman. It was the biggest turnout she’d ever seen, and there was a line at the door throughout most of the event.

The Kentucky Party is, in fact, legendary. Even the Huffington Post name-dropped it in its best Sundance soirees roundup, titled “Hotspots to be on the list in 2017.”

Started by local film producer and entrepreneur Gill Holland and Merry-Kay Poe, chair of the Kentucky Film Commission and president of Unbridled Films, the Kentucky Party is a way to show off the amenities of the state to everyone in the film industry and hopefully get them to consider Kentucky as a place to film their next project.

Robert Peters (“Uncommon Grace,” shot in Kentucky) and Soozie Eastman | Courtesy of Louisville Film Society

“We have some of the best tax incentives for film companies in the country,” says Eastman. “The party was a way to highlight that and also show off our many other attributes.”

Poe recalls the very first Kentucky Party, which took place five years ago.

“The first one was very spur of the moment,” she says. “Gill (Holland) said, ‘Hey, we should throw a party while we’re at Sundance,’ and we threw one together in a few weeks. We were pleasantly surprised at the turnout and interest, so we decided to make it an annual event, and it has been growing every year.”

Poe has been instrumental in getting the General Assembly to pass legislation needed for Kentucky’s coveted tax incentives for production companies. The first film legislation was passed in 2009, which brought in projects like “Secretariat” and “The Ides of March,” and in 2015, Poe worked with Film Commission members to make the incentives even more competitive with other states.

“We now have one of the strongest programs in the country, and the number of projects coming here keeps growing rapidly,” says Poe. “That is why you now have sightings around town of stars like Nick Cage, Jon Voight, Selma Blair, Jeremy Irons and Dylan McDermott. The state film office has already approved more projects for 2017 than all the years to date.”

And with the incentives soundly in place, it’s time to market Kentucky to the world, which is exactly what the Kentucky Party did. It was sponsored by the Kentucky Film Association, Kentucky Film Commission, Louisville Film Society, Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau, and VisitLEX, and many associated with those organizations attended, as well as filmmakers who previously shot in Kentucky and those interested in shooting here.

Poe was happy with the turnout, which she estimates to be around 250.

“There were several producers and filmmakers who had made films in Kentucky in 2016. All of them are planning on filming again in Kentucky because of their positive experience here,” she says. “They were actively convincing other filmmakers to experience the hospitality and beauty of Kentucky as well. That made me feel that we are doing something right.”

Below are more photos from this year’s Kentucky Party. (Click on a photo to enlarge and scroll through the gallery.)