Everyone, of course, knows about the festival. And pretty much everyone in the independent-film world is familiar with the other long-standing programmes - from the film-makers labs to the producers conference - that Robert Redford's Sundance Institute runs alongside its annual Park City get-together.

The Sundance Institute Arthouse Project is a much younger and less well-known initiative. But by bringing together arthouse cinemas from across the US, it is still an initiative that fulfils an important part of the institute's mission, maintains Russ Collins, co-chair (with Sundance Festival programming director John Cooper) of the project.

'The primary purpose of the Sundance Institute is to support independent artists and audiences for independent artists,' says Collins, who is also executive director of the Michigan Theater, a project participant.

'The purpose of this project is to build institutions in local communities that will build audiences for independent art product.'

The project began four years ago when 12 'community-based, mission-driven' specialty film theatres, most of them operating on a non-profit basis, were designated by the institute and invited to send representatives to the festival. For 2009, the project is growing by 50%, taking in another six theatres.

Just prior to the festival, representatives of member cinemas gather in nearby Salt Lake City for the Art House Convergence conference. And during the festival itself, the representatives have a chance to see films that they might later book through distributors for their theatres.

They also have a first look at the film packages sometimes prepared by the festival for project members. This year, participating theatres screened a series of shorts from Sundance 2008 that included director Myna Joseph's Man, Yours Truly by the UK's Osbert Parker, and Dennis from Denmark's Mads Matthiesen.

At the Art House Convergence conference, says Collins, 'we get together and share our ideas, our successes and our issues and we find there are people all over the country that are solving the problem of exhibiting specialty films in such a variety of ways. It's very inspiring.'

The conference also serves to remind project members, most of which are funded through membership programmes and contributions from private individuals, that even in the US, where the commercial exhibition model dominates, 'it's OK to be showing films in a non-commercial paradigm.'

The non-profit, community-based model is becoming more prevalent in US exhibition, Collins suggests, as baby boomers, many of whom were introduced to cinema through college film societies, start to demand more access to specialty movies.

After the conference and festival, member cinemas can use the Sundance brand to provide a 'seal of approval' for films they book that screened in Park City. Collins says the brand has recently helped him attract Michigan audiences to such films as documentary Man On Wire and UK import Son Of Rambow.