Bigger and Busier: Sundance Kicks Off '04 Fest With More People and More Marketers
by Eugene Hernandez and Brian Brooks
While snow back east slowed the travel of some New Yorkers en route to Park City for the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, in Utah the skies were clear and blue, with a crisp but comfortable chill in the air. For the first time, Sundance opened with a doc, and in Park City. Stacy Peralta's surf film "Riding Giants" unspooled at the Eccles followed by a number of kick-off parties in town. The opening was a homecoming of sorts for Peralta, who won the 2001 Sundance audience award and the directing prize for his 2001 festival entry, "Dogtown and Z-Boys."
By all accounts 2004 is a big year for Park City. When the Sundance Film Festival box office opened for business on Tuesday, organizers sold more than 40,000 tickets in one day, which doubles the 20,000 tickets sold on day one last year. The number of people coming to Park City for this year's festival will top 40,000 this year, not to mention the gawkers and holiday weekend skiers who will crowd Main St. this weekend. That figure is notable given the fact that the number of total Sundance Film Festival seats has remained steady at 215,000.
Sundance Film Festival Director Geoff Gilmore attributes the jump in attendees to a greater public interest in independent and specialty films. "This is something that has been maturing and growing over the last several years," Gilmore told indieWIRE yesterday during a conversation in his office at Sundance's Park City Marriott headquarters.
"We're dealing with phenomenon that indicates a greater general public interest," Gilmore said, citing Sundance '03 films including "American Splendor," "Capturing the Friedmans," "The Station Agent," "Thirteen," "The Cooler," and "Pieces of April" as a diverse crop of movies that are drawing a wide range of people to festivals like Sundance.
"This is work that I don't necessarily see as a slamdunk on the commercial end, but whose appeal is their originality," Gilmore added.
Of course, alongside Sundance here in Park City are countless marketers who are in town to catch the attention of festival attendees. Surveying the growing list of parties reveals more than 50 private events in the first few days of Sundance alone. The onslaught includes soirees and gatherings of all sizes, including brunches, schmoozing venues, special awards ceremonies, swag sites for the already well-heeled, and of course the festival's own official functions. Not to mention Slamdance, TromaDance and the other alternative fests.
"It's something that's of concern, it's something that we are trying to deal with," Gilmore said Thursday when asked about the growing level of what he has previously labeled "ambush marketing." While preferring to remain relatively quiet on the topic, Gilmore added that overall financial support for the festival has substantially increased.
This year, perhaps more than ever, Park City will be like Hollywood in the Rockies, with parties from the likes of William Morris, UTA, Entertainment Weekly, Damon Dash, and CAA, to name-drop just a few. Those lingering between power lunches on Main St. will have the Portrait Studio hosted by WireImage as a stop. SKYY is also joining the leisure scene on Main Street with their SKYY View Lounge at 449 Main St. through Tuesday. The Motorola Lodge on Main St. and the Village at the Lift will cater to celebs and VIPs as well, hosting exclusive events and providing a place for more free stuff for insiders. Mercedes, Premiere Magazine, and many, many others.
Swag hounds take notice, marketers of all stripes are caring for your well-being, but it helps a lot if you are famous. Sundance sponsor Volkswagen is touting a gift bag of its own, but its not for just anyone. The company is offering a "Phaeton VIP Gift Bag" for "interviewed talent only" who arrange an on-camera interview inside the luxury S.U.V.
Gays and lesbians are taking on Park City once again with the annual Queer Brunch this Sunday at the Grubsteak restaurant. Also this year, there's the new Queer Lounge at the Gateway Center. In addition to giving people a place to hang out, the site will host press conferences and morning coffee. The Lounge has already made waves even before opening its doors. The local newspaper, The Park Record devoted a front page article to the site this week.
Finally, for festival-goers who are actually at Sundance as a filmmaker, Sundance Channel has again enlisted On 3 Productions to create a gift bag certain to make directors feel like a real Hilton sister. The Kenneth Cole black leather & suede travel duffel bag will be overflowing with goodies exclusively for filmmakers with a movie screening at Sundance. Last year's Sundance Channel swag was a coveted item that caused a ruckus at the network's fiesta, but this year the channel is giving its gifts only to the people who deserve it the most.