I’ve been making the film festival journey to Park City, Utah for the last seven years, and over that time I’ve come up with an info guide to attending and surviving Sundance. As each Sundance approaches, I send this exclusive guide to the newest Film Threat writers attending the festival. Last year, however, I shared the guide with the Film Threat audience, revised and updated for their practical usage and the guide became quite popular. So I present, for the second year, Film Threat’s Guide to the Sundance Film Festival:
With the 2008 Sundance Film Festival just days away, it’s time to make sure you’re fully prepared for the festival onslaught to come. Read through this guide for important information, tips and tricks for navigating and surviving the Sundance Film Festival.
THE TREK TO THE MOUNTAINS
At this point, I’m assuming you’ve got your airport accommodations taken care of. You’ll be flying into Salt Lake City airport, which means you’ve still got to find your way to Park City. Should you rent a car? How can you get to the mountain paradise of cinema?
If you’re staying in Park City, you’re probably on the local shuttle route, so don’t rent a car. All that does is crowd town with tons of vehicles there is barely enough parking for, slow up traffic and cause accidents. Instead, shuttle from the airport into Park City via Express Shuttle, Park City Shuttle or All Resorts Express. The trip should cost about $30-$50 one-way, but you won’t have to worry about being responsible for a car. Make sure to make your shuttle reservations at least 48 hours ahead of time, though All Resort Express runs every 15-20 minutes out of SLC regardless.
If you’re not staying in Park City, then renting a car is a great solution, because you’ll need to commute the 1/2 hour in and out of Park City daily. The only major problem this causes is parking once you get into town. Most festival sanctioned parking lots are going to be charging $10-$20 per day, and street parking is not allowed unless you have a Park City local permit (you can apply for a special 10 day parking permit here, however). That being said, however, there are a couple ski resorts in town that have huge parking lots and are right on the local shuttle route. Meaning? Park at the ski resort and shuttle to Main Street. UPDATE: Park City has implemented new regulations regarding Sundance in 2008, and they caution against parking in the Deer Valley Ski Resort lot prior to 5pm, though the lot will be available regardless after 5pm.
WHAT SHOULD I WEAR? WHAT’S THE WEATHER LIKE?
It’s winter in the mountains, so leave the shorts at home (unless you’re staying somewhere with a jacuzzi). Temps range from 0-30 degrees Fahrenheit normally, so come equipped with a warm winter jacket, long pants (with thermal underwear), boots, winter hat and winter gloves.
KEEP IT HEALTHY
You’re high up in the mountains, so the oxygen level is most likely less than you’re used to. This allows you to get winded much easier, and also contributes to dehydration (your body is working overtime to keep you breathing). Drink lots of water (take advantage of any free water you find at parties, lounges, etc.) and don’t go running up and down Main Street.
Also, keep in mind that there are many people from all over the world descending upon a small town in the mountains at the same time, and not everyone is healthy. You’ll be crammed into shuttles with these germ-farms and runny-noses, so make sure you’ve brought vitamins, echinacea and Airborne to help boost your immune system. The sooner you start your immune system maintenance, the better you’ll be. Don’t believe me? If you run into a Slamdance volunteer, ask them about the year the flu named “Slam-bola” swept through the festival laying waste to all those involved.
GETTING AROUND PARK CITY
Every festival venue is on the main festival Theater Loop route, and all local shuttles come and go from the Old Town Transit Center at Swede Alley (running parallel to Main Street). If you can’t get on the Theater Loop buses for whatever reason, ask the attendants at the Transit Center which local buses go by the venues too. You can sometimes save yourself some hassle by hopping a local route instead of the Theater Loop. Be advised, the first 4 days of the festival are insane, with the majority of attendees in town and using the buses. It’s not uncommon to find yourself standing in the stairwell of the bus as it drives a human sardine-filled mass around town. By Tuesday, however, the transit is less crowded.
MOVIES, MOVIES, MOVIES
You’re in Park City to see movies, so let’s get to it. You should know by now what films you’ve got tickets for. Sundance over the years has gotten unreal with the lack of ticket availability once you get to town, so if you’ve been eyeing that major premiere and you don’t have a ticket, chances are going to be slim. However, most, if not all, films will be screening up to 3-4 times during the festival, so you can usually hunt down tickets for a later screening. Additionally, Sundance screens a number of their flicks in SLC and Ogden, so if you can’t score tix in PC, take a small roadtrip and see the film elsewhere.
WHICH MOVIES SHOULD I SEE?
Have a working knowledge of which films will be getting a major release in the future. For example, the 2008 festival is screening “Be Kind Rewind.” As great as it would be to see the film in Park City with Jack Black and Mos Def in attendance, you’ll have more than enough opportunity to check out the film in the future. So instead, see that indie that sounds really interesting but may never see the light of day outside the festival circuit. The documentaries are routinely strong and the shorts blocks are a great way to get bite-sized pieces of filmmaking brilliance without the attention-span commitment.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE PANELS!
If you really want to learn more about filmmaking and the film industry, make sure you check out the extensive panel schedule Sundance puts on daily. Yours truly will be speaking on a panel entitled “Critics Cornered?” that will be held Friday, January 25, 2008 at 10:30am in the Filmmaker Lodge. So at least attend that one, and help us all figure out if film critics matter or not.
WHERE CAN I GET FOOD?
There are restaurants up and down Main Street, but the majority of them are way too pricey. The mainstays for any Park City veteran include Red Banjo Pizza, Wasatch Brew Pub and Main Street Pizza and Noodle. Overall, though, it’s all about planning, so hit the local Albertson’s when you get into town, stock up on food for the condo or hotel room, and keep the restaurant dining to a minimum. Besides, shouldn’t you be eating party hors de’oeuvres anyway?
WHAT’S THIS NONSENSE ABOUT UTAH BEER?
Beer in Utah has a 3.2% alcohol rate as opposed to the 4-5% in a regular beer. That being said, the higher elevation will compensate so, even though it seems like you can drink more than usual, you’ll get just as hungover. If you don’t want to chance it, imbibe the complimentary liquor at the various parties and get drunk on less. Remember to drink your water!
SPEAKING OF PARTIES, WHICH ARE THE BEST ONES?
You’ll find out when you get into town which parties have the best buzz, which one Snoop Dogg is going to be spinning at and which’ll be overloaded with celebrities. The problem is that if you’ve heard about it, so has everyone else in town, and they’re all going to be trying to get in too.
The secret? Start researching about any and all parties, and have back-ups. For every Massive Buzz Party, there’s six lesser known, just as fun, parties going on. Beyond that, there are various lounges throughout Main Street, such as the Queer Lounge or the Volkswagon Lounge, that are just nice spots to unwind without the obnoxious party lines. If you stand in line anywhere for more than 15 minutes, you’re wasting your night. No exceptions.
FOUND THE PARTY, BUT HOW DO I GET IN?
Everyone’s got their own trick to getting into a party, the easiest of which will always be to RSVP and be on the list, but let’s be serious here, that’s usually not possible (and if 2007 was any indication, even being on the list isn’t enough anymore). I’m not one who ascribes to any one tactic being the perfect one (you have to be able to improv), but I have found that being considerate and understanding when speaking with the doorperson helps. You may not be on the list, but if you act laid back about it and be cool to the volunteer being yelled at by some other self-important prick, you’ve got a great chance of being let in anyway. Act like you belong there, be even tempered and never get upset. Remember, there’s always another party somewhere else.
What? You want a practical technique too? Fine, this is one I’ve used in the past when a badge is required to a party:
1.) Wear a lanyard around your neck, as if you have a badge.
2.) Zip up your winter jacket all the way, covering the “badge.”
3.) When you get to the person where you have to show your badge, start tugging on the lanyard to get it free of your jacket, but act as if it’s “caught” on the coat.
4.) Start working on the “caught” zipper, spreading your legs out and making yourself look bigger (and, consequentially, blocking everyone else behind you from getting in).
5.) This will cause a blockage at the door, and the doorperson will want to alleviate the blockage, usually by saying “fine, just go in” while you continue to fumble with the jacket.
6.) Congrats, you’re in.
I’M A CELEBRITY-W***E. WHERE’S THE BEST PLACE TO SEE THEM?
Most of the celebrities in town will be attending the screenings for their films, so if you go to those screenings, or hang outside the theaters for said screenings, you should be able to catch a peek.
The other easy spots to find celebrities are the gifting lounges. Generally these locations are kept secret, but they’re easy to spot. These are the unassuming shops on Main Street filled with still photography equipment and guarded at the door by a bouncer with a guest list. Look for anything with WireImage or Getty in the name as well.
FORGET THE FAME-W****S, I’M A FILMMAKER AND I WANT TO TALK TO A DISTRIBUTION EXECUTIVE OR A PRODUCER
Albertson’s, particularly the very first two days of the festival, is a who’s who of celebrity and filmmaker personalities. Go pick up some survival items for the week, like Ramen noodles and bottled water, and chances are you’ll be in line behind someone important, or you may find yourself fighting over milk with a development exec from the Weinstein Company. Real networking begins at Albertson’s.
Whether you’re a filmmaker, a film fan, a writer or a volunteer, this little nugget of truth will always serve you during any film festival, and make your life that much easier:
The film festival world is a small one, and as the years go on, you will see the same people over and over and over again (like the Zellner Brothers, who practically live on the festival circuit they’re so damn prolific). It’s better to be respectful and considerate and therefore garner a solid reputation early on, because you’re only going to wind up building upon your first impression anyway. Festival volunteers, directors, programmers, writers, etc. talk, so if you’re a prick everyone will know it. Then there won’t be a party trick invented that will get you in.
– Mark Bell