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Park City, Utah – The Sundance Film Festival is supposed to be an indie film orgy for the masses, where little known filmmakers can be seen and heard, and film lovers from all walks of life can descend on Park City for 10 days of intense movie -- and movie star -- watching.
But despite founder Robert Redford’s claims last year that Sundance is for the “99 percenters,” it turns out those with bulging bank accounts have priority. Because even if you have purchased a ticket for a particular screening at the festival, you can still get bumped from your seat for someone who purchased a pricey festival package.
One Sundance attendee learned this the hard way after turning up to Saturday’s late night screening of Daniel Radcliffe’s “Kill Your Darlings” with a $15 screening ticket purchased ahead of the festival in hand.
“I spent $60 on a cab fare, and a further $10 at the concession stand and arrived well in advance of the 15-minute requirement ahead of the film’s start time,” Elissa – a New Yorker who flew in for the festival and preferred to withhold her full name – told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column. “All that only to be turned away because pass holders hold priority at Sundance. At least 25 other ticket holders were also turned down at the door, which was very disappointing. I never expected Sundance to be like that.”
It turns out a top-tier All Access package can be purchased for a cool $3,000 and provides one, well, all access for the first five days of the festival. The same All Access pass can be purchased for the second, slightly less hectic half of the festival for another $2,500. According to the Sundance website, all such packages this year are sold out.
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All Access passes don’t require the holder to buy individual tickets, or even reserve a space in advance – they are simply required to arrive at the theater at least 30 minutes before the start time to gain priority, and must be seated 15 minutes prior to guarantee their seats.
In Elissa’s case, she claims festival volunteers were apologetic, but instructed her to read the “fine print.” Yet there is no such disclaimer on the back of Sundance tickets, which state simply that the ticket holder “must be seated 15 minutes prior to the scheduled start time or seat may be forfeited.”
The Fine Print section on the Sundance website outlines more information, including that “quantities are limited” and that they “do not guarantee ticket availability for any participants.” However, it is not clear that even if you buy a ticket, your entry may be barred.
A worker in the theater’s box office said that with regards to this particular screening of “Kill Your Darlings,” way more pass holders showed up than were anticipated, so they offered a refund to those who were not able to be seated. It was also confirmed that festival pass holders do have priority because the passes are the “most expensive item you can hold.”
A rep for Sundance also addressed the issue, telling us that “an unprecedented number of Festival pass holders showed up for the screening” which required them to turn away some ticketholders and the wait list.
“Ticketholders were given options of receiving refunds or vouchers for other screenings, and we've added a screening of ‘Kill Your Darlings’ on Tuesday, for which (those) ticket holders are guaranteed admission,” continued the rep. “We do our very best to predict pass holder attendance across the 700 plus Festival screenings, based on historical and ticketing data, and incidences such as Saturday night's screening rarely occur."
But even the alleged rare occasion has some shaking their head at the protocol coming from the not-for-profit Sundance Institute, and the associated self-governing film festival.
“It is perhaps a reaction to the financial pressures, and the need to maintain sponsorship at a high level. But they should remember their independent spirit and balance the needs of individuals versus corporations,” noted independent movie producer Mark Joseph, adding that he was surprised to learn about the ticket protocol.
And Dan Gainor, VP of the Media Research Center, said he has attended the festival many times and experienced the “bumping” protocol first-hand when package holders show up in droves.
“There is no doubt that the big names of the cinema rule the show. Celebrity visits, movie sessions and star-watching dominate the program,” he said. “It is still indie, but it has become part of the Hollywood establishment.
However, others are less disturbed about All Access ticket holders getting priority and simply put it down to the nature of the beast.
“The fact that Sundance would cater to such influencers only seems to honor the work of the independent filmmaker,” said Utah media strategist Scott Lazerson. “After coming to Sundance for ten years in a row, I have never been denied entry to a film – other than times I stood in the waitlist line. But I would gladly give up my seat if it meant a potential distribution deal.”
And according to Glenn Selig of the Publicity Agency, the growing popularity of the Redford-founded festival – even to the point where not everyone’s tickets can be honored – is part of what has given rise to the whole indie film fest circuit.
“If Sundance attracts a ‘who’s who’ type of audience, it aids the filmmakers and their films. The primary purpose of Sundance is to give exposure to indie filmmakers,” he said. “The upside is the popularity of Sundance and the frustration some feel about being unable to attend has paved the way for more film festivals around the country.”