Live Your Best Sundance Life: 7 Top Sundance Attendance Tips
If you are fabulous enough to have a high-level Sundance pass, this post is not for you. Having plunked down $3500 or so for your pass, your strategy at Sundance is very simple: have your driver drop you off at the Eccles Theater and spend all day watching one amazing premiere after another (if you are attending during the first week). Then go to the premiere party on Main Street with Grizzly Bear headlining. Amazing.
These tips are for the rest of us.
Even though I’ve attended the festival on and off since the '90s, I have never had such a pass. For probably over a dozen festivals, I’ve been the type of Sundance attendee who needs strategies for overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles to see the films I’m dying to see, go to a cool party or five, and maybe sneak in a ski day with friends. Over time, I’ve learned a few things that help me live my best Sundance life. The first and most important premise for the scrappy festival attendee is that Sundance will never go exactly as planned. But, if you are adaptable, you can have fun at Sundance and not be left out in the (very extreme) cold.
1. It’s great to have local friends.
Friends in Utah, that is. They can buy tickets at cost before anywhere else. They have free places to stay and are way more down to earth than everyone else at Sundance. I find that hanging out with them can help restore your faith in humanity before you set out to brave another day jockeying for a position, trying to get into seemingly impossible film screenings and parties.
2. Make breakfast plans. In advance.
You gotta eat. The problem is - beyond premiere dinners where producers, actors, filmmakers and crew celebrate being there, having their movie seen and hopefully getting a good distribution deal - making dinner plans in advance is tricky. People are constantly chucking dinner plans when something unforeseen comes along, like tickets to a hot premiere at the Eccles or dinner with someone who can greenlight a next career move. Spur of the moment dinners often happen, but I find breakfast is less fraught with cancellation danger. Breakfast on a snowy morning at, say, 10:30am, is something most people, even those most in demand, will not cancel. Everyone is in need of strong coffee and, with a frenetic day of schmoozing and screenings ahead, they gotta eat. Breakfast is a good time to see friends, exchange gossip and pick up tips about what to see or avoid. A few places in town offer a really good, non-exorbitant breakfast with down to earth, sincerely helpful wait staff and a side of truly sublime people watching. The power breakfast will help you survive long days that turn into long nights, and therefore is one of the best survival tactics at Sundance.
3. Bring some very, very warm waterproof and tall boots.
The Park City bus and taxi system is great. Until it isn’t. If you are a film aficionado with plans to see a lot of movies and attend industry events, you will very likely end up trotting from one venue to another, often in DEEP snow and/or deep slush sprinkled with patches of black ice. Without serious snow boots, the likelihood that you will slip and fall and/or get frozen toes is quite high. So try to talk yourself out of the sexy suede ankle boots for some serious off-road snow boots. You will thank yourself... and so will your unbroken tailbone.
4. Ask people what to see.
Sundance scuttlebutt is a thing. And the word on the street concerning new films - especially among film industry insiders - is one of the wonderful things about Sundance. Find out what people love. Find out what disappointed them. And act accordingly. Your time is precious and shifting your sites regarding what you most want to see is often a good idea. The programmers of the festival are going to choose some movies that are not your cup of tea, to say the least, so talk to others to discern how you want to spend your moments in a dark theatre. Since the filmmakers are often present, it’s pretty awkward to walk out of a film at Sundance.
Image Credit: Sundance Mountain Resort
5. Go to Redford’s nearby resort, if you can.
Sundance Mountain Resort is about a 45-60 minute drive from Park City, depending on the blizzard level. In my experience, it is well worth the journey. The food is fantastic, the atmosphere at its restaurants is special and unique and the screenings are intimate and occasionally star-studded. To me, this rustic and beautiful little corner of the planet is Redford’s happy place. And we are lucky enough that he wants to share it with us. Also - tickets are often easier to get to the screenings here.
6. A Jeep is nice to have.
LOTS of people - most attendees - do Sundance without having a car. However, it’s my tradition to have a 4 wheel drive vehicle (believe me, no other kind will do). It’s your call. There is no place to park. Over the years, though, I have found some secret parking spaces in Park City. Those will not be divulged in my tips. But if you run into me late at night, I just might be able to help drive you back to your hotel. Another perk of having transportation is occasionally being able to go to a screening in Salt Lake City or Sundance Mountain Resort, if there is a must-see film you can’t get tickets to in Park City. If you have never driven in snow, please disregard everything I just said.
7. People have tickets they won’t be using.
Lots of people are given a stack of tickets through their work. Some of those tickets will end up being inconvenient to their other plans that develop.
That’s where you come in - to take those unusable tickets off their hands. You’re welcome.
Virginia Scripps is CEO of Press Kitchen