Anybody who attends the Sundance Film Festival for a few years learns a few tricks.
They know that the best seats at the Egyptian Theatre are closer to the front. They can tell you that the Library Center Theatre gets cold before the show, but warms up during the movie because they turn the air conditioning off. They know the best routes for the shuttle buses. Their legs bend just the right way to walk downhill on Park City’s Main Street without tripping.
The most important rule is this: You’re supposed to have fun at a festival — so if you’re not, you’re doing it wrong.
What do you need to know about navigating the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, the largest cultural event in Utah? Here are 20 tips and tricks, gleaned from festivalgoers with years, even decades, of experience.
Download the app • The festival’s app puts the program guide, schedules, maps and other information in your smartphone, and it’s free. Most important, the app is the way to access the eWaitlist, the last resort for getting into sold-out screenings.
Choose wisely • If you want to see stars, the Premieres section will have them in abundance, though those movies are more likely to hit theaters or streaming services sooner rather than later. (For example, the horror satire “Velvet Buzzsaw” has its first festival screening on Jan. 27, but will debut on Netflix on Feb. 1 — before its last two festival screenings are shown.) If you’re feeling adventurous, pick something that looks more obscure, and you may luck your way into the movie everybody’s talking about by festival’s end.
Watch the shorts • The short-film programs are where the next generation of Sundance talent can be found. Wes Anderson got his start there, and so did Damien Chazelle (he shot a crucial scene from his “Whiplash” screenplay, as a teaser for would-be producers, and it worked as a short). After seeing the shorts, you’ll see the directors pacing in the lobby. If you tell them you liked their short film, they will be the most appreciative humans you’ve ever seen.
Take the bus • Not that you’ll have much choice, given the limited and pricey parking options in Park City, but the shuttle buses are the main means of getting from venue to venue. Give yourself ample time to get to your venue, especially when traffic is heaviest (weekends and anytime around 5 p.m.).
Be punctual • If you have a ticket or a pass, be at the screening at least 15 minutes before showtime. If you’re not, your seat may go to somebody on the eWaitlist. Also, make some time for the security screening, where a guard will ask you to open your jacket and bags for inspection.
Stay in Salt Lake City • The festival has scheduled 149 screenings at Salt Lake City venues: the Grand Theatre (Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays only), the Rose Wagner Center, the Broadway Centre Cinemas, the Tower Theatre and the Salt Lake City Library. Every movie on the Sundance slate will play in Salt Lake City at least once. Filmmakers like the Salt Lake City screenings because they provide a test audience that isn’t full of industry types, the way the Park City screenings are.
Enjoy the lounges • Most of the “hospitality lounges” that pop up during Sundance are invitation-only sites where companies can cater to celebrities. Not all, though: Visit Salt Lake is opening festival lounges near Salt Lake City venues, at Copper Common (next door to the Broadway Center Cinemas) and the East Liberty Tap House (near the Tower Theatre), with music nightly at 7 and 10. There also will be pop-up events at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center. And all of these Salt Lake City lounges are open to everybody, space permitting.
Go to more than movies • For those with festival credentials, there are sights beyond the movies. There are VR and AR displays at New Frontier, interviews at the Filmmakers Lodge, concerts at the ASCAP Music Cafe, sponsor demos at the Festival Co-op, and merchandise stores to buy clothing and souvenirs.
Live in Park City • The festival’s Townie Tuesday screenings are freebies for Summit County residents on Tuesday, Jan. 29, with the documentary “David Crosby: Remember My Name” at 7 p.m. at the Redstone Cinemas, and the Mindy Kaling/Emma Thompson comedy “Late Night” at 9 p.m. the Library Center Theatre. For the first time this year, tickets will be distributed via the eWaitlist — another reason to download the festival’s app.
Look for celebrities • Famous people will be around, though they are usually cocooned in ways to keep them out of sight of regular folks. The new part of Park City’s Main Street is a popular spot to spot celebrities being whisked from SUVs to private lounges — just look for the crowd of gawkers. The best way to see celebrities is to go to the movies, particularly on the first weekend, and watch them in the Q&As.
Don’t embarrass us • Think about the question you’re going to ask before raising your hand at a Q&A. Don’t ask what the budget was. (Filmmakers won’t answer, because it might deflate the price distributors are willing to pay.) Don’t ask the filmmaker to explain the ending. Don’t ask a star for an autograph or a hug. Don’t filibuster; the phrase “this isn’t a question as much as a comment” will elicit death stares from all over the theater.
Go to Slamdance • In “The Simpsons,” when Lisa got her documentary into Sundance, Principal Skinner suggested to Superintendent Chalmers, “If we can’t get into Sundance, perhaps you’d like to check out their alternative cousin, Slamdance?” To which Chalmers replied, “I’d rather die.” All kidding aside, Slamdance, marking its 25th year, is a pleasantly scruffy companion to the bigger event, and full of surprises itself. It runs Jan. 25-31 at the Treasure Mountain Inn, at the top of Park City’s Old Main Street.
Get chatty • Talk to people in the ticket line, on the shuttle buses or at parties. Ask them what they’ve seen so far; trade opinions about good and bad movies. This is how “buzz,” that ineffable energy that turns an unknown movie into a word-of-mouth hit, starts. There’s even a chance for romance; in fact, Sundance has led to more marriages than “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” combined.
Hydrate, a lot • For flatlanders, altitude sickness is real, so drinking plenty of water is key. The festival gives out reusable water bottles to attendees and maintains water fountains and filling stations at all venues. The bottle also makes a cool, and free, souvenir.
Carry hand sanitizer • The combination of cold weather, lack of sleep and close contact with many strangers can lead to illness. Stock up on hand sanitizer, tissues and your over-the-counter medication of preference.
Eat right • Rushing from screening to screening, you might forget to eat regularly. Carry a couple of healthy snacks in your bag for emergencies. Also get to know how each venue handles concessions: The Eccles Center Theatre only allows water into the theater, while The MARC and Library Center Theatre (among others) let you bring in food, and The Ray has no concessions — but there is a Fresh Market supermarket next door.
Eat for a good cause • The concessions stand in the Library Center Theatre benefits the Park City Film Series, which brings indie films to that venue year-round. In past years, Park City High School’s gay-straight student alliance has set up a table midway between the bus stop and the theater entrance, selling snacks at reasonable prices.
Pack appropriately • Utahns know how snowy and cold it is here during the winter, so this is a warning for out-of-towners: Wear a coat. And gloves. And sensible boots. I have seen people in stiletto heels, crop-top sweaters and thin sports jackets try to navigate Park City streets. Don’t be dumb.
Wait until it’s over • Sundance’s thank-you gift to Utahns for all the festival’s traffic and inconvenience is the Best of Fest screenings, scheduled for Monday, Feb. 4, at the Eccles Center Theatre in Park City, the Rose Wagner Center in Salt Lake City and the Sundance Resort Screening Room. Titles will be announced Sunday, Feb. 3. Screenings are free for anyone with a Utah driver’s license or state ID card. This year, for the first time, tickets won’t be distributed in advance, but via the eWaitlist two hours before each screening — 3:30, 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. at the Rose, 6 and 9 p.m. at the Park City and Sundance Resort locations.
Accept the festival for what it is • Sundance didn’t invent FOMO, the fear of missing out, but it may as well have. It’s inevitable that if you’re attending something cool, six other cool things are happening elsewhere. Don’t be upset about what you’re not doing. Enjoy the amazing ride where you are.