For 10 days every winter, the Sundance Film Festival charges into Park City, Utah — transforming a charming ski mecca into a nonstop whirlwind of movie premieres and parties. But for the average festivalgoer — those of us who fall outside the coveted circles of filmmakers, actors and their entourages — it can feel like your name is the only one missing from the guest list.
But that doesn’t mean stage fright should get the best of you, especially if you’re attending your first Sundance. The festival kicked off on Thursday and runs until Feb. 1, and whether you’re going this year or are already looking ahead to 2016, here are some insider tips on learning how to Sundance as a non-celebrity. See you at the movies!
Have a plan. Don’t fret if you don’t have one of those coveted all-access passes (or even tickets ahead of time). A little pre-festival strategizing can go a long way. Often, the simplest way to score tickets is via the waitlist, a process that has been exponentially easier since the handy online option, which is available on smartphones, was introduced in 2014. Also, early birds can take advantage of films that begin at 8 or 8:30 a.m., when the partygoers are still sleeping it off.
A good starting point is to figure out which movies are your must-sees, keeping in mind that the bigger-name films are likely to make their way to your local theater or Netflix. Allow for at least two hours between films, and get familiar with the layout of the venues, which are spread out across the city and as far as Ogden and Salt Lake City. And don’t forget about traffic, especially on weekends and around 4 p.m., when ski resorts close.
Stay flexible. Snarled traffic and too-long lines can wreak havoc on even the best-laid plans. The best strategy? Stay open to the serendipity of Sundance, which is half the fun of the festival. Meet someone who makes you their plus-one for a rocking after-party; do some celebrity-watching on the street; love a movie you hadn’t even planned on seeing.
“Don’t set your mind on just one event or idea, because at Sundance things can change on a minute-by-minute basis,” said Rob Lea, a Park City native who has attended approximately 20 Sundance festivals. “If you’re flexible, you can always find something fun to do.”
Take advantage of the free transit. Sure, a black Escalade with tinted windows is the transportation of choice for A-listers. But the free Sundance shuttle deserves two thumbs up for dependable — and free! — service between venues. Cabs may be a quicker option, but ask for an approximate fare before you climb in, as some cabbies don’t use meters. Finally, don’t rely on car services like Uber, which are constantly in peak service mode.
Beware the “Sundance flu.” Many festivalgoers leave with great memories but less-than-great health, thanks to too much partying, too little sleep and frequent glad-handing that passes on germs. A few tricks of savvy Sundancers: stocking up on hand sanitizer and over-the-counter remedies like Emergen-C.
Skip pricey hotels and rent a house. Traditionally, visitors who didn’t book hotels — at spiked prices — months in advance or have a friend’s couch to crash on used to be out of luck at Sundance. But in recent years, home-rental options such as AirBnb have opened up hundreds of lodging options at a variety of price points, depending on where you want to stay. For example, during the festival’s midweek, there were more than 300 Park City-area rentals available on AirBnB, starting at around $105 for a private room and bathroom. By contrast, the Yarrow Hotel, one of the official Sundance properties, had midweek rates starting at $359, and the swanky St. Regis started at $975.
Work the door wisely. Some of the best people-watching at Sundance happens at the doors to the hottest parties, where seemingly normal people morph into self-entitled egomaniacs when their demands of “Don’t you know who I am?” raise nary an eyebrow. Indeed, there’s a fine art to working one’s way into a fabulous fete without an invite — and it doesn’t involve being rude to the doorman.
“People come up to us all the time and say they’re a producer or a director and just expect us to let them in,” said a doorman named Matt, who gave only his first name. “There are fire codes and bosses, and if I let in everyone who wanted to get in I’d get fired.
“But if I’m going to let someone in without an invite, you can bet they’ll be the nice person who smiles and is gracious instead of the [jerk] screaming at me.”
Enjoy solitude on the slopes. There’s a reason savvy snowhounds pick Sundance week to hit the slopes around Park City: Resorts see a fraction of their normal traffic, especially midweek. At Park City Mountain Resort, attendance can drop to just 25 percent of usual numbers, communications manager Andy Miller said. That may be depressing news for management, but it’s great news for skiers who love empty slopes and nearly nonexistent lift lines.
Dress the part. Fashion magazines and blogs are bursting with the latest looks for Sundance. But you don’t have to drop mad cash to look like an A-lister. Wear a black jacket and you’ll blend in with the Sundance “PIBs,” or “People in Black,” as Hollywood types are sometimes known among locals.
“When Sundance comes to town, it seems like everyone is wearing a black jacket,” Lea says. “I don’t wear my black leather jacket very much, but I usually wear it for Sundance because it looks like I belong in the Hollywood scene, and that can make getting into places easier.”