Every January, the streets of the mountain town of Park City, Utah, light up as the Robert Redford-founded Sundance Film Festival pulls in big names to introduce future Oscar winners and eye-opening documentaries. Over the years, movies screened in this one-time mining town have ranged from "The Blair Witch Project" to "Little Miss Sunshine."
Seeing buzzed-about films before the rest of the world isn't restricted to the Hollywood elite, though. Tickets for many screenings during the festival that starts Jan. 21 are publicly available, and there are ways to get in on the action and still have some cash left over for popcorn.
GET ON THE LIST
While tickets to big-name releases sell out fast, fans can now get online to put their names on wait lists and check out the chances of getting in before heading into the cold. Park City is packed during the festival's opening days, but the second half of the event is a bit more laid-back, making it easier for movie-lovers to score seats. And for those who stay through to the end, there are additional screenings of award-winning movies after the ceremony on the final day, Jan. 31.
MAIN STREET SCENE
If spotting movie stars during the hottest days of the festival is your thing, think about grabbing tickets for a lower-profile film in the festival's vast selection. Then scope out celebrity arrivals at the big-name screenings or hit up the lively Main Street scene after the show. Besides, you could end up discovering a cinematic gem.
PLAN MEALS NOW
Getting restaurant reservations in Park City is all about planning and flexibility. Call far in advance and be prepared with a backup. Many restaurants get booked for private parties, says Linda Jager with Visit Park City, the tourism agency. Off-hours are also good times to try in-demand spots like the ski-in High West Distillery and Saloon, or to sample the state's burgeoning craft beer scene at Wasatch Brew Pub or Squatters Roadhouse Grill. For cheaper eats, try places like El Chubasco and Good Karma, or venture outside of Park City to Kimball Junction, a 15-minute drive away.
HIT THE SLOPES
Sundance's not-so-dirty little secret? The area's epic mountains are relatively empty during the festival as people staying to watch movies all day, says Nathan Rafferty with Ski Utah. And you never know who you might be sharing a chairlift with if you step away from the festival to check out one of the nearby ski areas that now include the new Vail-owned Park City mega-resort, touted as one of the biggest in the country.
FLY UNDER THE RADAR
For some free entertainment between screenings, hunt street art left by the mysterious artist Banksy when the documentary "Exit Through the Gift Shop" premiered in 2010. One work that's been framed and covered in Plexiglas is on the Java Cow building at 402 Main St. The other is harder to find, on the side of a parking garage between Park Avenue and Main Street.
THINK OUTSIDE PC
Lodging in Park City can range into the hundreds of dollars a night and many rooms sell out quickly. Salt Lake City offers a wider hotel selection a 40-minute drive away, and Sundance also holds movie screenings there. The city's nightlife, including two adjoining bars owned by "Modern Family" actor Ty Burrell, Beer Bar and Bar-X, is also worth checking out.