IndieWire’s 10 Tips to Surviving the Sundance Film Festival

IndieWire got its start at the Sundance Film Festival in 1996, so we know a little thing or two about what it takes to have a successful time.
The marquee of The Egyptian Theatre on Main Street during the Sundance Film Festival, in Park City, Utah2018 Sundance Film Festival - Egyptian Theatre, Park City, USA - 22 Jan 2018
Sundance Film Festival
Danny Moloshok/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

[Editor’s Note: This article is presented by Canada Goose.]

The Sundance Film Festival is one of the best times of the year for a cinephile, but not planning accordingly can make it a challenge. IndieWire has been covering the Park City event since our founding in 1996, so by now we know a little thing or two about what it takes to pull off a successful and enjoyable visit to the Sundance Film Festival. Next year’s Sundance kicks off Thursday, January 24. Here are the survival tips you need to keep in mind before you arrive.

1. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate

Any journalist or moviegoer who has attended the Sundance Film Festival has probably gotten altitude sickness at least once. Park City’s high altitude means the air is thin, so getting sick or battling through headaches and shortness of breath is just the first step of many people’s Sundance experience. To combat the altitude, make sure to start drinking water at least a full week before your flight leaves for Salt Lake City and keep hydrating consistently during and after the fest as well. We recommend at least three full water bottles a day, if not more. The more you properly hydrate the more adaptable your body will be for the Park City altitude. Bringing along some Advil isn’t a bad idea either. – Zack Sharf

2. Don’t Forget Your Boots, but Make Sure They’re Not New

Boots are the most essential footwear to bring to Park City, as there’s bound to be at least one snowstorm that turns Main Street into a muddy, icy mess. Word to the wise: Don’t bring a new pair of boots to Park City. Make sure all the footwear you bring is well worn-in, as you’ll be doing a lot of walking to shuttles or between venues, and walking up Main Street with its heavy incline can be a real workout. The rest of your wardrobe should be standard winter wear: Sweaters, sweatshirts, jeans, winter coats (don’t be the person who brings a windbreaker and not a heavy duty winter coat, it can get frigid at night). – Zack Sharf

3. Learn the Shuttle Map, but Don’t Rely On It

Sundance offers a robust shuttle service that can be essential when it comes to navigating the fest — especially from film venue to film venue — without a car. But while there are multiple routes (run through Park City’s free bus service, many of them all converging at a downtown hub) that serve the festival year in and year out, the shuttle service is also beholden to weather, traffic, overcrowding, and a schedule that seems to get more loosey-goosey as the ten-day event wears on. Study the shuttle map before you go, targeting the stops that are most important to your experience (venues where you’ll be seeing most of your films, stops close to your homebase, your best bets for rest areas, etc.) and memorizing the routes that serve you best. For most people, that will likely be the Theater Loop, which moves between Main St. and the bigger venues, but if you’re staying in say, Deer Valley, there’s a shuttle for that, and even one to get you out to Redstone, where some screenings happen.

Learn it, love it, but don’t rely on it — you’re going to want to give yourself plenty of time to get places. Sure, something might look like a hop, skip, and a jump on paper, but in actuality, it could take half an hour. Scheduling is hard in a festival atmosphere, but building in travel time is key. And, don’t be afraid to ask the friendly volunteers manning each shuttle stop or the experienced drivers running them, they are always happy to offer the best bus for you. – Kate Erbland

Main Street is seen during the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, in Park City, Utah2018 Sundance Film Festival - Day 3, Park City, USA - 20 Jan 2018
Main Street is seen during the 2018 Sundance Film FestivalDanny Moloshok/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

4. Understand the Ticket System Before You Arrive

Film fans hitting up the festival just for fun have a number of options when it comes to buying tickets, from passes and packages that go on sale weeks before the event kicks off, to individual tickets that roll out in early January (want the best ticketing window? Think about becoming a Sundance member to get early access). All tickets and passes can be bought online, and the festival provides a handy walk-through of how to do just that.

Want to go a little more free and easy? You can also attend Sundance without advance tickets, as the festival will release any free tickets to each event up to two hours before showtime. In recent years, the festival has started using an eWaitlist for non-purchased tickets, allowing eager attendees to “wait” in line without having to, well, wait in a cold line. Sound like a shot in the dark? It’s not: the festival reports that nearly 15% of their audience attend via the waitlist. If you’re willing to wait in the cold, Sundance often plays home to sign-toting wannabe audience members who stand outside (brrrr) to ask kindly fellow attendees for free tickets or to swap for hot events. It often works! – Kate Erbland

5. Watch Out for Black Ice (Seriously)

Falling on your ass is bad. Falling on your ass in front of all your favorite indie stars and filmmakers is worse. And if you’re not careful, that’s probably what’s going to happen to you. In fact, even if you are careful that’s probably what’s going to happen to you — the streets of Sundance are just that slippery. While it goes without saying to pack your sturdiest boots, and to wear them at all times, you can never be too sure of where you’re stepping at this festival, especially when night falls on Park City and dangerous patches of ice start to disguise themselves as innocent bits of pavement. Main Street, despite its steepness, tends to be pretty safe and well-salted, but the sidewalks outside of the Library and Eccles theaters are huge danger zones, so be sure to practice your shuffle step in advance, and don’t be afraid to ask for a helping hand over the particularly treacherous bits. – David Ehrlich

An entrance leading to the festival box office is seen during the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, in Park City, Utah2018 Sundance Film Festival - Day 4, Park City, USA - 21 Jan 2018
An entrance leading to the Sundance box office.Danny Moloshok/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

6. Always Eat in Advance of Events

When it comes to exciting new indie films, Sundance is the world’s greatest feast. When it comes to food, however, the festival is… lacking. Main Street has a zillion restaurants to choose from, but that only gets you so far, as all but one of the major screening venues are located elsewhere, and the most prominent of them all — the Eccles — doesn’t permit you to bring food inside. At Sundance, you should never pass up a chance to eat, as you can never be sure when you might get another one. While all of the venues have some kind of concessions stand outside (even the Eccles), the options are rather limited, and there’s only so long you can live on Red Vines and Pizza. Our advice is to stock up on energy bars, hide them deep in your bag, and tear one open whenever you find yourself waiting in line between movies. A couple of Clif Bars should be enough to keep you going between breakfast and dinner, and they might be the difference between watching the next great independent film and sleeping right through it. – David Ehrlich

7. Careful When You Talk About the Quality of Movies

It’s a natural impulse at a festival to want to dissect everything you’ve seen. Whether on the bus, in the lobby, waiting in line, answering “What have you seen that you liked?” is the easiest conversation starter there is. Of course, there are going to be films you don’t like as much, but take care when sharing criticisms. There are a lot of people at the festival who put their life’s work into these movies, and they don’t go walking around with a neon sign saying why they’re there or what they worked on. Festivals are a celebration of the medium, so if you’re going to go out of your way to rake someone’s first feature over the coals (which, OK, interesting life choice), just know that the mountain air makes everyone’s hearing about 35% better. – Steve Greene

8. Don’t Rely on Rideshare Apps

Sometimes plans change. You get a surprise Gala screening ticket or you got your theaters mixed up. Just know that it’s probably going to take you at least 10 more minutes to get where you want to go than any piece of technology might tell you. Planning on an Uber or Lyft to help you get from Main Street to the MARC on short notice is not a viable plan, especially on opening weekend, when private cars are clogging up every conceivable side street. (And that’s if it’s not even snowing at all. The first sign of precipitation grinds all vehicle traffic around the busiest parts of town to a complete and inexplicable halt.) “Be Early” is a good Sundance rule of thumb overall, and know that  your phone simply may not make that happen. – Steve Greene

The marquee of The Egyptian Theatre on Main Street during the Sundance Film Festival, in Park City, Utah2018 Sundance Film Festival - Egyptian Theatre, Park City, USA - 22 Jan 2018
The marquee of The Egyptian Theatre on Main Street.Danny Moloshok/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

9. Skip a Hotel and Rent a Condo

Staying at Sundance can be expensive. Like, crazy expensive. A room at the Marriott or The Yarrow, two of the most popular and beloved hotels in Park City, can set you back $700 a night. If you’re going with a group, consider renting a condo. If you book just a couple months in advance you can typically get a deal for three people to stay in one condo that costs as much a hotel room for one. Park City has about a dozen rental agencies – book online or by phone in advance and then stop by the rental office to pick up your keys when you arrive. Book a condo off of Deer Valley Drive and you can avoid that pesky Sundance traffic altogether – walking to Main Street from condo-lined Deer Valley Loop or Stonebridge Circle takes a little over 10 minutes. – Christian Blauvelt

10. Check the Venue, Because Some Theaters Are a Long Drive

Most of the Sundance press and industry screenings are held at the charmingly old-fashioned Metropolitan Holiday Village 4 Cinemas. But some premieres – open on a first-come, first-serve basis to the paying public but where actors and directors will be in attendance – can be much further away. Some gala screening events take place in downtown Salt Lake City itself, a 40-minute drive away, while others occur at the Sundance Mountain Resort, which is at least 75 minutes south and close to the city of Provo. Pay close attention to where any public screening is going to be held, though: even venues that are closer to the heart of Park City, such as The Marc, can require a long, traffic-jammed journey. – Christian Blauvelt

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