Veterans of the Sundance Film Festival know which bus will get to the Eccles Theater the fastest. They know that Main Street is impassable on the first Friday night, but not so bad the second Saturday. They know the quickest route to the beer fridges at the back of the Park City Fresh Market. And they know that hand sanitizer is a gift from the gods.
For those attending the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, the following tips and tricks can help make the experience of cramming tens of thousands of people into a ski town more bearable. The most important thing to remember is that it’s a festival, so have fun.
Download the app • The Sundance Film Festival app is free, and includes schedules, the program guide, maps and other information. It’s also how you access the eWaitlist, which is how festivalgoers can get into sold-out screenings.
Watch “The Simpsons” • Specifically, the episode “Any Given Sundance,” from Season 19, in 2008. In that episode, Lisa Simpson’s documentary about her family gets into Sundance, and the whole family goes along, experiencing Park City’s chaos and meeting filmmaker Jim Jarmusch and actor John C. Reilly. In 22 minutes, it covers everything one needs to know about Sundance’s unique place in American culture.
Navigating Park City
Ditch the car • A parking space in Park City, particularly in the Old Town area, is like a restaurant booking: rare and expensive. The China Bridge garage on Swede Alley is charging $60 a day on the festival’s first Friday and Saturday. There’s no public parking at theater venues, and the threats of getting towed are to be taken seriously. Better to find a space on the outskirts of town, like the Ecker Hill Park and Ride (take the Jeremy Ranch exit off Interstate 80), and take the bus into Kimball Junction, the Canyons transit hub or Main Street.
Know the traffic rules • Park City has instituted new regulations to deal with traffic into Old Town, all compiled in a community guide issued by the city (available at parkcity.org). One major change is that Park Avenue turns into a northbound one-way street at the intersection of Empire Avenue/Deer Valley Drive — so to access Park Avenue south of that intersection, one must turn left onto Deer Valley Drive up to Heber Avenue, then come back north on Park. See why parking at Kimball Junction and catching a bus is a better proposition?
Lyft vs. Uber • The ride-sharing service Lyft is a festival sponsor, and they get more spots to pick up and drop off in Old Town than everybody else. Lyft customers can use the 9th Street turnaround, Swede Alley behind the Park City Museum, and the Brew Pub parking lot at the top of the hill (Jan. 23-27). Other taxis and ride-sharing services, as well as hotel shuttles and the public, can use the Brew Pub lot and the South Marsac lot (Jan. 23-26, and Feb. 1 and 2).
Mind the clock • Some parts of the day are busier than others, so budget extra time for the shuttles. The absolute worst are Fridays and Saturdays, from 4 p.m. — the ski resorts’ “beer o’clock” — into the evening.
Be on time • “Punctuality is the courtesy of kings,” Louis XVIII is credited with saying. (Paul Newman once had it embroidered on a pillow for his perpetually tardy friend, Robert Redford.) Ticketholders and pass holders will need to be punctual to get into screenings; if you don’t get there 15 minutes before showtime, your seat may go to someone on the eWaitlist. Be nice when the guards ask you to open your bags and jackets for inspection.
Drink water • This is aimed mostly at the visiting flatlanders, who learn too late how serious altitude sickness can be. The festival gives out reusable water bottles — a neat, free souvenir — and maintains water fountains and filling stations at its venues.
The Salt Lake City alternative
Don’t go up the mountain • Practically every movie playing at Sundance gets one screening in Salt Lake City. Filmmakers love the Salt Lake City screenings, according to festival director John Cooper, because the audiences are sharp, knowledgeable film lovers — and because they give a more honest appraisal of the movie than the industry types in Park City.
Lounge in Salt Lake • Two of the Salt Lake City venues — the Broadway Centre Cinemas, at 111 E. 300 South, and the Tower Theatre, at 876 E. 900 South — have festival lounges nearby. The Broadway’s is at Copper Common, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., Jan. 25 to Feb. 1. The Tower has the East Liberty Tap House a few doors down, open noon to midnight on weekdays, 11 a.m. to midnight on Saturdays and Sunday, from Jan. 25 to Feb. 1. Live local music is scheduled from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. each night at both locations, which are open to anyone 21 or older.
Make good choices • Some go to Sundance to see movie stars, but titles with big names are also the ones that will screen soon in theaters or stream online. (One example: The thriller “The Assistant,” in the Spotlight section, opens in New York and Los Angeles on Jan. 31, before the festival’s over, and in February around the country.) Pick an obscure title, and you may land at what becomes the must-see movie of the festival.
Watch short films • The festival’s short-film programs are often a launchpad for new talent — one example is Damien Chazelle, whose short “Whiplash” workshopped a scene from his feature screenplay, and previewed J.K. Simmons’ Oscar-winning performance. Sometimes, that new talent is pacing nervously in the lobby, and a kind word from an audience member can be enough to keep that filmmaker from chucking it all and becoming a stockbroker.
Locals get a break • If you have ID that proves you live in Summit County, you get priority for two “Townie Tuesday” screenings on Jan. 28: the documentary “Boys State,” 7 p.m. at the Redstone 2; and the Julia Louis-Dreyfus/Will Ferrell comedy “Downhill,” 9 p.m. at the Library.
Wait till the end • This year, the Best of Fest screenings for Utah residents aren’t waiting until after the festival, but will run on Feb. 2, the final Sunday — the same night as the Super Bowl. The Park City screenings are at 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. at The Ray, and 9 p.m. at the Eccles. At the Sundance resort, the screenings are at 4 and 7 p.m. The Salt Lake City screenings are at 3, 6 and 9 p.m., in two theaters at the Broadway. Screenings are free, but tickets will be handed out through the eWaitlist system — another reason to download the app.
In the theater
Know your concessions • The Eccles has pizza and sandwiches, but you have to eat them before going into the auditorium, where only water is allowed. (The Eccles also has the kids from Park City High School’s gay-straight student alliance selling snacks, midway between the venue entrance and the bus stop.) The MARC, Library and Temple have nice concessions, and allow food in the auditorium — and the Library’s stand raises money for the Park City Film Series. The Ray has no concessions, but there is a supermarket next door. When in doubt, carry an energy bar in your bag for emergencies.
Be smart at the Q&A • Never ask how much a movie cost to make; filmmakers won’t answer, because they don’t want distributors to reduce their offers. Never say “this isn’t a question as much as a comment,” or risk the seething wrath of your fellow moviegoers.
More ways to have fun
Not just movies • There’s VR and AR and MR (mixed reality, combining VR and AR) in the New Frontier venues. There are panel discussions and interviews in the Filmmakers Lodge, concerts in the ASCAP Music Cafe and The Shop, and sponsor demos in the Festival co-op — all open to those with festival credentials.
Know your lodges • Festival credentials will also get you into some of the sponsor lounges, like the Acura Festival Village on Swede Alley. But some lodges are more restricted, and some are open sometimes and closed for private events at other times.
Fire drill • A new event this year is a bonfire, set for Thursday, Jan. 30, from 4:30 p.m. to sunset, at the Flagpole parking lot, 557 Swede Alley in Old Town. It’s open to anybody, as long as there’s room, and might be the community gathering Sundance needs.
Hunt for celebrities • The best place to see stars is at the screenings, during the Q&As. The not-so-old part of Old Town is a good spot to catch fleeting glimpses of celebrities as they move from vehicles to private lounges. Follow the crowds of looky-loos. The first weekend is the best time for sightings; after that, many actors go back to their day jobs making TV shows, and the lounges disappear like Brigadoon.
Talk to strangers • Whether waiting to get into the theater, lining up at the concession stands or getting crammed in the shuttle buses, chat with other festival attendees. You’ll get a sense of what movies are worth seeing and help generate real word-of-mouth “buzz” that every filmmaker craves over the fake stuff their publicists have been manufacturing.
You can’t do everything • Once you choose your path at Sundance, try not to think about the five other fascinating things that might happening at that exact moment somewhere else. Keep telling yourself that those other events are a bust, and this moment you are experiencing is the coolest thing that has ever happened, anywhere.