How To Survive And Thrive In Sundance
by Eugene Hernandez
The Sundance Film Festival, an annual mecca for independent filmmakers, Hollywood execs, fashionable scenesters, and film aficionados from around the world, has become a popular travel destination even for those who do not have a film playing at the fest. Running today, January 15 – January 25, this year’s festival is reportedly set to draw some 40,000 people to the small mountain town of Park City, Utah. The most important showcase for new films in the United States, the Sundance Film Festival is run by Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute. Alongside Sundance is the alternative film festival Slamdance, this year celebrating its 10th anniversary. And to add to the mix are countless hotspots, some official and others hosted by numerous corporate sponsors.
NOTE: indieWIRE’s insider guide, revised for 2004 by ten-time Sundance attendee Eugene Hernandez, offers those coming to Utah a quick overview of how to navigate the scene in Park City.
While a few brave souls have been known to hit the road and drive from Southern California (with a requisite overnight stop in Las Vegas for some gambling and pre-festival carousing), most visitors take a flight to Salt Lake City International Airport. The trip is 8 to 9 hours from New York (usually with at least one stopover) and a short 2 hours from L.A. Festival Sponsor Delta Airlines offers slightly discounted fares for festival-goers, while Jet Blue Airways is the way to go for indie-minded travelers. The upstart airline offers low-cost fares from Long Beach, CA and New York City (for about $200-$500) and each leather seat includes its own television set wired for free satellite television with 24 channels. If flying makes you hungry, don’t forget to grab something before boarding, the chipper crew can only offer small bags of cookies or crackers along with a selection of beverages (alcoholic beverages are available for $3-$4 for any pre-partyers). Book early, however, as Jet Blue flights from New York to Salt Lake are sold out during peak arrival times early in the fest. Other airlines that fly to SLC include America West and Frontier.
It’s a 45-minute drive from Salt Lake City’s user-friendly airport to Main Street in Park City. Thrifty, Dollar, and Hertz offer rental cars that are accessible near baggage claim or just a short shuttle ride away. Renting a car is certainly not a necessity for Sundance attendees; the city offers a solid network of free shuttles throughout the city. Given the erratic weather, a four-wheel drive vehicle is recommended for those opting to rent a vehicle. Prices for a one-week rental range from $300 to $800. Those deciding to pass on a car can get a ride from the airport to any Park City destination via a number of shuttle services. Rocky Mountain Transport is a reliable outfit with a booth near baggage claim. Costs for a round-trip ride in a comfortable van run $54. The communal trip is a great way to make some first festival acquaintances. Those on a tight budget should chat up festival-goers in the baggage claim area. Something about the high altitude makes most attendees, especially veterans, friendlier than usual. Find the right friend and you’ve got someone who can give you an occasional ride for the duration of your festival visit.
THE LAY OF THE LAND
Park City, Utah is a picturesque mountain village at the base of some of the best ski slopes in the country, if not the world (the town hosted many of the ski events during the 2002 Winter Olympics). Set at an altitude of 6,800-10,000 feet, the town is a winter haven for snow-lovers. During the Sundance Film Festival, the city’s streets teem with the aforementioned filmmmakers, Hollywood types, and a variety of other fashionable visitors. Not to worry though, those who despise such people can still have a decent time at Sundance.
Even if you’re not into the scene, there are the all important movies. More than 125 features and 60 shorts are screened at Sundance, ranging from higher-profile star-studded movies to experimental and archival work, not to mention short films. An increasingly important element of the experience is the alternative festivals that have emerged alongside Sundance. The reigning leader is Slamdance which offers quality indie films, with few stars and therefore smaller crowds, making their screenings a great way to be a part of the action for filmmakers and attendees alike. Other alternative fests running concurrent with Sundance include Tromadance, Nodance, and Slamdunk.
Resturants are primarily clustered on or around Main Street but prepare to move slowly along the narrow thoroughfare during the festival when attendees in their rental vehicles jam the street.
ATTENDING THE FESTIVAL
Unless you are a member of the press or a festival guest, securing a Sundance credential can feel like a daunting task. But don’t despair. Sundance is not a closed event. Anyone can get tickets or packages, but the prices can be steep. Many films sell out in advance of the festival, but persistent participants can score tickets by lining up at least one hour in advance of showtime.
Screening venues in Park City range from top notch to makeshift. The new Eccles Theater is Sundance’s showcase venue, with 1,270 seats, solid sound and comfortable seats. This year the Holiday Village Cinemas have been remodeled offering the comforts of the multiplex back home. Be warned however, venues like the Park City Library or the Prospector Square are temporary theatrical spaces that offer quality projection and sound, but leave much to be desired in terms of seating comfort. Screenings of festival films are also held in Provo and Salt Lake City, as well as a few daily screenings at the nearby Sundance Mountain Resort.
DRESSING FOR THE WEATHER
There is nothing more entertaining on a late night in Park City during the Sundance Film Festival than watching wanna-be models in tight dresses trying to walk along the iced over streets in stiletto heels. Wiser fashion choices are layers during the day, and a parka on top for snowstorms or late-nights. It can get quite cold in Park City in January and blizzards that dump 18 inches of snow are common. Then again, other years, sunny days with temps in the high 30s are not unheard of. As with any cold-weather city, don’t forget gloves, a scarf, and a hat. Screenings, parties and festival events are not stylish affairs. Distinctive, but sensible attire is a smarter approach. If you are from New York and most of your wardrobe is black, you will probably be teased more than once by a local, but you are probably used to that!
As with getting to Park City from the airport, there are a number of ways to get around Park City. As mentioned, those on an expense account will rent a car. Make friends with these people at parties or in screenings, they can offer a ride in a blizzard or guarantee that you get home safely after a late party. Parking can be hard to find in the heart of Main Street, so it is advisable to leave the car for late-night jaunts to parties or trips to the supermarket. Instead Park City offers a free shuttle bus system that stops close to all the theaters and official festival parking lots. Buses run at 10-minute intervals from 7 a.m. until an hour after the conclusion of the last event of the night. Cabs are in the form of passenger vans that typically charge riders $9 for a trip within town. You can hail a van in town and join the crowd, or call to arrange a pickup. Among the cab companies are Park City Taxi (435-649-8294) and Yellow Cab (435-649-TAXI). Walking makes sense for those staying in or near the village, weather permitting.
Sundance is legendary as a party destination, so much so that going to a party at Sundance can be an utter nightmare. Large crowds jammed into condos 10 years ago have given way to splashy, sponsored bashes recently. One actual quote from a beefy bouncer to the masses gathered in the driveway outside an over-crowded party last year, “You are not getting in unless you are famous… I don’t recognize any of you!”
That said, partying in Park City doesn’t have to be horrible. The best bashes of recent years have involved new and old friends gathering in a condo for cocktails and a simple spread of finger food. Smaller soirees are the best parties that I’ve been to at Sundance lately.
That said, sometimes you just have to crash that hot party. For the best ways to sneak into parties refer to Chris Gore’s extensive guidebook, “The Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide.” Parties often take place at restaurants such as Lakota (751 Main St.), Picasso (900 Main St.) or the Riverhorse Cafe (540 Main St). To get in, scout around, tip the host, or try the direct, friendly approach — it sometimes work. When all else fails, some crashers have found success by using the rear entrance to some of Main Street venues. Overall, the best bet though is to be on the list and get there on time.
Bars and clubs in Park City are typically jammed with locals and skiers and stringent liquor laws can make public drinking an expensive task.
There is food for those on any budget. High-rollers will want to make a reservation, days in advance, at Grappa (151 Main St.) or Chimayo (368 Main St.), restaurants considered the best Park City has to offer. These spots are ideal for celeb-spotting during peak meal times. For a great meal though, Picasso (900 Main St.) is a true find. Breakfast at the Main St. Deli (525 Main St.) is low cost and homey. The spot attracts filmmakers and locals — an egg sandwich is a great way to start the day. For a heartier meal in the morning, the Eating Establishment (317 Main St.) is the place to go, but be prepared to wait. Omlettes are a great choice at this Park City favorite. For lunch, how about a burger? Burgie’s at 570 Main St. is a great place to grab a turkey burger and some curly fries. The adventurous will want to order a Bison Burger. For an afternoon cup of coffee, try Bad Ass Coffee of Park City (435-655-9811, 651 Park Ave.) or the Starbucks on Main Street for a slightly less indie cup o’ Joe.
Each year sees a new group of places to grab a quick bite or to have a leisurely meal. Zoom (660 Main St) is always hopping during the festival, being that it is co-owned by Robert Redford. The meals are terrific and the warm tones of the decor are inviting and relaxing. But call ahead, because the venue is a popular site for private parties. Low on cash? The 7-Eleven near the Park City Library has hot dogs, or better yet, skip the meal and stake a spot near the food table at a party. Cubed cheese and chicken satay can get rather boring, but they can also tide you over and help your budget. Festival attendees should also learn the schedule for the food trays delivered to the Sundance hospitality suite. Mornings offer bagels, while in the afternoon, desserts and crackers make for great quick snacks in between movies. Over at Slamdance, organizers usually offer complimentary cocktails or beer during afternoon mixers.
Other restaurants that have become recent favorites include Zona Rosa (501 Main St.) which offers tasty tacos and burritos at reasonable prices. Bangkok Thai (605 Main St.) makes a pad thai that we can recommend. Main Street Pizza and Noodle (530 Main St.) offers solid, but more pricey, pizza. The Morning Ray Caf