So it’s my first year at Sundance, and since the festival wouldn’t credential me (they wouldn’t even contact to tell me they had rejected my application, although they did send me literature through the mail) I had to attend as a civilian. That means I’m one of those people that I keep hearing the longtime festivalgoers complain about, clogging the streets, sidewalks and stand-by lines and making it more and more difficult to navigate the Sundance experience. It also means every single screening I was really interested in was sold out long before I had a chance to buy tickets, and that press conferences, screenings and parties are off-limits unless I can get someone involved in the film in question to hustle me past security (or unless I happen across a venue’s unlocked back door, which is not unheard of). I’ve only been on the ground here in Utah for a little more than 48 hours, but here’s some stuff that I wish I had known when I was making my (confused) plans for attendance.
Logistics are important. Obviously, the best way to handle a Sundance stay is by doing what you’d do if you were a starving college student in any high-cost rental market – rooming with friends or colleagues to share lodging costs. Since I was doing this on my own, I ended up staying at the Best Western Landmark Inn, which is in Kimball Junction, six miles from Main Street, and runs $179 a night. I have wireless Internet access, a refrigerator and microwave in the room, laundry facilities downstairs, plus a small video arcade (with pinball!). The big downside is convenience. The city shuttle runs right by the hotel every half hour, but takes a good 30 minutes or more. The hotel runs a free shuttle into Park City 12 times a day, which is faster. But the last bus heads back to the hotel at 11:30 p.m., so after that you’re on your own, and cab rides are $15 to $16, which will add up for a dedicated midnight moviegoer. Would I happily stay here again? Sure. But first I’d investigate my options for cheap rooms that are on the circuit for the festival shuttle buses, which get people around the various festival venues quite efficiently.
Don’t get discouraged. Standing in line for the shuttle bus outside the Park City Marriott around 4:30 p.m., I mentioned I was heading, on a whim, for the Eccles Theater, where the opening-night gala film, Friends With Money, was screening at 6:30. Asked if I had tickets, I replied that, no, I was going to check out the stand-by line. At which point someone (not a Sundance rep) told me that the screening was an invitation-only event, that there would be no stand-by line, and that I was wasting my time by visiting the Eccles at all. Someone else agreed. I sort of smiled and said something about how I didn’t have anything better to do anyway and would just go grab some dinner if it didn’t work out. Anyway, when I got to the Eccles there most certainly was a stand-by line. Judging from my eavesdropping skills, it was populated in large part by celebrity spotters who were very into the idea of seeing Robert Redford in the flesh. I didn’t get into the screening, but it was close — and I’m convinced that if I hadn’t wasted my time double-checking my (lack of) credentials at Sundance Headquarters and had instead gotten to the line 20 minutes earlier, I would have gotten in.
The stand-by line is your single most important strategy. The guy at the festival box-office whom I grilled about same-day ticket sales (“very few,” he said) strongly suggested that wait lists were the better option. So I was determined to try the stand-by line again with something I actually wanted to get into: a sold-out Friday screening of Sólo Dios Sabe, which a friend worked on. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get on line until 1:30 p.m., which was just too damned late for a 3 p.m. premiere that was rapidly turning into a circus. I heard they were looking to let at least 35 wait-listers in, and maybe they did, but my ticket (#88) wasn’t even in that ballpark.
That night, I was determined to see Destricted, a sex-themed anthology film with contributions from Gaspar Noé, Larry Clark, Matthew Barney, Richard Prince and others, so I spent some time with friends and headed off alone to the Library Theater around 9 p.m. for an 11:30 screening. Bingo. I was number 12, which was perfect. (If I had come any later, I would have been less confident about getting in. If I had come much earlier, I might have felt self-conscious about heading up a line that pretty much branded me Sundance Pervert #1.) So if I blew close to six hours on a Saturday night seeing just one two-hour film, it was still pretty exciting since the curiosity level was really high and nobody in attendance knew what to expect. Also, I wound up sitting directly behind Noé and Clark before the screening began, which was a moment out of time for sure. Taxis were not in abundance at the venue, so I shuttled back to Main Street to catch a ride back to my hotel (in the Music Taxi, a minivan festooned with Christmas lights that traveled to the beat of “Whipping Post”).
Be the early bird. Saturday morning, I hit the Egyptian at 8:20 a.m. to wait-list the 9 a.m. screening of Sólo Dios Sabe and got in with no problem. I think everybody from the wait list got in. Park City is not a morning town, so if you’re willing to drag ass out the door early enough, you can minimize time spent standing around and maximize time spent with your ass planted in a theater seat.
Fuck Starbucks. The Alpine Internet Cybercafe, located around the 800 block of Main Street, isn’t in the best location, but the coffee is excellent and I don’t think they’re owned by a big megacorporation. (OK, I just googled them and they do have a second location in Breckenridge, Colorado. Did I mention that the coffee is excellent?) The place with the cow outside is more convenient but less delicious. Mmm, coffee.