I love movies. I live for them. And if you share this sentiment, you’ve probably heard of the Sundance Film Festival.
Since 1978, Sundance has earned a reputation for showcasing the world’s best independent films and filmmakers. Nearly 50,000 people pour into Park City, Utah every January for the honor of attending the largest independent film festival on the planet.
This year, the festival takes place January 19–29. Through a meticulously calculated combination of intense planning and dumb luck, I found myself at Sundance this year. Here are some tips and tricks for anyone interested in attending a future Sundance Film Festival as an audience member.
Unless you’re someone who has a matching car for each of your outfits and eats Kellogg’s Gold Flakes for breakfast, everything affordable sells out super quickly in Park City. Plan to book lodging and flights months in advance. Condo and hotel prices skyrocket as the festival approaches, so don’t procrastinate. When looking at options, check the map where your lodging is located in relation to the festival’s main venues. If you find yourself more than a few miles from the heart of Sundance, the savings might not be worth it, as traffic will make commuting a daily nightmare.
Tickets to individual Sundance screenings don’t go on sale until the day before the festival begins. By that point, press and film industry members have already claimed most of the seats for the highly anticipated movies. So, my suggestion is to either buy a 10-ticket package or purchase a Sundance Institute membership. Admittedly, the 10-ticket package is quite expensive if you are not a student or Utah resident. However, if you become a Sundance Institute member (starting at $65 for one year) you get to purchase your festival tickets 24 hours before the general public. You also save 20% on festival merchandise and gain access to member-exclusive screenings.
Alternatively, you can rush over to the festival box-office every morning at 8:00 a.m. sharp to purchase day-of tickets in person. These tickets are hard to come by, so the other options might save you some stress.
Lastly, you can do what I’ve been doing for the sold-out screenings, which is to enter the eWaitlist. The eWaitlist is a nifty option that allows you to enter an electronic standby line for all sold-out movies. Basically, you press a button on your phone two hours before the movie, and you’re given a number which tells you how likely you are to make it into that screening. Thus far I’ve gotten into six of ten screenings through this method, so it is somewhat successful.
If you’re like me, you prefer to travel on a budget. A great way to make your stay in Park City more affordable is to share a hotel or condo with some friends. So gather four or five of your favorite film aficionados, put on your matching Goonies pajamas, and have yourself a Sundance slumber party for the ages. Personally, I have a rockstar of a friend who found us a Wyndham resort condo within walking distance of the festival headquarters. We have eight people sharing this condo, with everyone getting their own bed, so Wyndham is certainly a solid option if you have enough people to split the price of the unit.
You may think you know how to watch a movie, but watching a movie at Sundance is an entirely different affair. Sundance is a winter festival… in Utah. Like a scene straight out of the natural disaster flick The Day after Tomorrow, you could find yourself waist- deep in powdered snow struggling to make it to your next screening. Pack plenty of warm clothing, and, if you haven’t already, invest in a pair of waterproof hiking boots; much like alt-rock band The Fray, a quality pair of boots knows “how to save a life.”
Park City offers free shuttles that routinely run between participating Sundance theaters — a wonderful option. However, traffic in the city gets so backed up that it often moves slower than a Peter Jackson film. I recommend walking between most theaters if you’re up for it (see above advice re: hiking boots), though be warned; these commutes can be several miles long in subfreezing weather (see above advice re: plenty of warm clothing). So, if walking is not your thing, factor in an extra 30–45 minutes to your schedule when heading to see your movies.
Most of the Sundance films feature post-screening Q&As with the cast and crew. If you are dying to meet one of your favorite stars, consider waiting outside of the theater after the movie. If you strategically position yourself between Kumail Nanjiani and his Uber, you just might get to meet him.
The Sundance Institute is the umbrella organization for the film festival and helps provide training and educational opportunities for young filmmakers. An excellent way to cut your own costs and support Sundance is to volunteer during the festival. By volunteering, you earn vouchers to festival screenings.
You also receive a pretty bomb winter coat when you volunteer; a coat that will fast become your best friend as you’re getting blasted by snow flurries. Most of my condo-mates volunteered this year, and they have nothing but positive things to say about the experience. Though I did not volunteer this time around, I plan to volunteer the next time I return to Sundance; mostly because I want to be a part of a cool squad that wears matching coats and snaps their fingers in unison while walking down the street.
If you keep these simple tips in mind, you’ll be well on your way to having an incredible trip to the Sundance Film Festival. Sundance 2017 is far from over, and I’m so excited for what’s still to come.
Paris Nguyen is a writer and journalist who specializes in entertainment news. He graduated from the University of Washington in 2013, majoring in psychology and cinema studies. With a passion for all things film-related, Paris spends the majority of his free time exploring the expansive world of cinema. When not munching on popcorn in a dark theater, Paris enjoys cycling, rock climbing and feebly tossing a frisbee in the general direction of other humans. Paris grew up in Issaquah, Wash., where he developed a deep fondness for hiking and pronouncing the name of his hometown incorrectly.More stories by Paris Nguyen