Pittsburgh native helps magic happen at Sundance Film Festival

Pittsburgh native helps magic happen at Sundance Film Festival

David Ginsberg
David Ginsberg

David Ginsberg remembers his days growing up in Stanton Heights, a kid who spent a lot of time watching TV and playing around with technology.

He recalls saving every penny he made working in the locker room at the Jewish Community Center in Pittsburgh to buy computer equipment, and that he “was one of the first people to get a Radio Shack computer in 1980.”

He was the kid who would print out his papers in high school on a dot matrix printer, using an early version of spell-check, which was cutting edge at the time.

He even operated a ham (short wave) radio.

Fast forward a few decades, and it is really no surprise that this 1984 Peabody High School graduate has landed the job of chief technology officer at Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute.

Founded in 1981 in Sundance, Utah, Sundance Institute is an internationally recognized nonprofit organization that promotes independent, cutting-edge filmmakers. It provides year-round creative and financial support for the development of original stories for the screen and stage, and culminates with its popular Sundance Film Festival in mid-January in Park City, Utah.

Since 1985, the Festival has launched hundreds of films that have garnered critical acclaim. Many have been commercially distributed.

Ginsberg, who started last August, is based in the Institute’s Los Angeles office where he is responsible for its technology-related resources, workflow and staff in areas including production, exhibition and IT services.

“My role is to figure out what are the best technologies we should be moving to, and how we can be more innovative,” he told the Chronicle in a phone interview from Los Angeles.

Ginsberg, the son of Mimi and Hyman Ginsberg of Pittsburgh, graduated from Syracuse University in 1988, spending his collegiate summers in Pittsburgh interning at WQED and KDKA. He landed in Los Angeles following his graduation from college, and soon got a call from a friend at Disney who needed an assistant.

“There was lots of room to grow there,” he said.

Before long, he became the in-house associate producer of “The Magical World of Disney,” an anthology television show that ran from 1988 to 1990.

When the show got canceled, Ginsberg moved to Disney theme park productions, which make short films park patrons watch as they are standing in line for rides.

From Disney, Ginsberg went on to work at Fox Broadcasting, cutting TV trailers, then moved on to Warner Brothers, where he eventually assumed a managerial role.

He was working at Warner Brothers when he got the call from Sundance.

“Sundance found me and brought me into this, to be in charge of technology,” he said, “to come up with new and better ways to do things.”

The Institute offers labs throughout the year for budding filmmakers, and provides the services of high-profile advisors who volunteer their time, all in support of good storytelling.

The festival itself draws about 60,000 people each year from all over the world, Ginsberg said, changing the dynamic of the otherwise sleepy, scenic Park City.

Redford remains a hands-on executive, Ginsberg said. “This is his vision. This is the world he wanted to create. He wanted artists to take chances creatively.”

As Sundance fosters the creativity of aspiring filmmakers, Ginsberg sees his affiliation with the Institute as his way of giving back.

“Sundance is an incubator of ideas,” he said. “This is my chance to give back to the industry.”

(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at tobyt@thejewishchronicle.net.)

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