How does one learn how to navigate the Sundance Film Festival? Either by going a lot of times or by listening to someone who has.
Here are some random tips for the rookie Sundance Film Festival attendee, from someone who’s been there:
Load the app • The 2018 festival app (available at an app store near you) will be a helpful tool, providing screening schedules, program information and maps of Park City venues and bus routes. Most important, the app is how one gets tickets through the e-waitlist system, so it’s a must for anyone who doesn’t already have tickets.
Check the box office • Every morning, a handful of tickets are made available for that day’s films. Get to the box office — 136 Heber Ave. in Park City, and in Trolley Square in Salt Lake City — and try your luck.
Free screenings • The festival has scheduled six free weekend screenings during the festival: Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 20 and 21, and Friday and Saturday, Jan. 26 and 27, at the Park Avenue Theatre in Park City, and Sunday, Jan. 21, and Thursday, Jan. 25, at midnight at the Tower Theatre in Salt Lake City. The films playing will be announced shortly before the screenings, based on what’s hot as the festival goes on. Tickets will be distributed via the e-waitlist system.
Use the Sundance water bottles • Sundance, in an effort to be environmentally conscious, has distributed free reusable plastic water bottles for years now, with filling stations at every venue. Staying hydrated will fend off altitude sickness (especially for visitors from sea level), and the bottles are a free souvenir.
Carry hand sanitizer • It’s inevitable, in a tight group of people in cold weather, that somebody will bring a flu bug. Anything one can do to halt an epidemic is welcome.
Public transportation • The old joke is that there’s no place to park in Park City. It’s true. People driving up to the festival will either pay jacked-up prices for parking or leave their cars at far-distant lots (like Kimball Junction) and take the shuttle buses into town.
Stay in Salt Lake City • Every feature title playing in Park City will get at least one screening in Salt Lake City — at The Grand, the Tower, the Broadway, the City Library or the Rose Wagner. Being in a Salt Lake audience also means being part of an impromptu focus group, because filmmakers like to see how their movies play with real moviegoers rather than the industry types up the hill.
Scout out the concession rules • Concessions are a tricky thing at Sundance venues. Some places, like the Eccles, don’t allow anything except water inside the auditorium. Others, like the Library Center, let filmgoers take all manner of food to their seats. (The Library Center also has the widest array of foods, including soup and sandwiches, and the proceeds go to the Park City Film Series, the nonprofit that brings indie film to that town all year. The Eccles has a concession stand in the lobby, but outside, Park City High School’s gay/straight student group sells snacks to enjoy while standing in line, with proceeds going to a homeless youth shelter.)
Don’t go on an ego trip • Sundance volunteers are immune to the “don’t you know who I am?” bug, so don’t even try. Being pleasant will get you much farther with volunteers, who are some of the nicest people you’ll meet in Park City — but they also don’t have time for your crap.
Go for something different • Movies with big stars are more likely to get distribution deals, if they don’t have them already, and thus are likely to return to Utah theaters later in the year. Seek out the weird movies, with unknown faces coming from far-off locations, that may never return.
See the documentaries • It’s no longer Sundance’s “best-kept secret” that the documentary offerings are, on average, better than the festival’s narrative films. Seek them out.
Watch the shorts programs • Filmmakers like Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson and Damien Chazelle got their start making short films that played at Sundance. The shorts programs are chances to catch the next generation of great directors. Those directors will be pacing in the lobby as you leave the theater, and if you pay them a compliment, they will be the most grateful humans you’ve ever seen.
Watch “The Simpsons” • Specifically, the episode “Any Given Sundance,” from 2008, in which Lisa’s documentary of her family gets into Sundance and the family travels to Park City (“where Parker Posey meets parka’d posers”). Between Principal Skinner and Superintendent Chalmers hitting the festival party scene and Lisa getting life advice from indie director Jim Jarmusch, the episode captures everything important about the atmosphere of Sundance.
Let the adventure happen • If you’re on a crowded shuttle that’s going nowhere because of traffic, you can choose to be irritated or you can choose to make new friends with your fellow passengers. Great festival moments are made from such opportunities.
Forget about FOMO • Sundance has been around longer than the acronym FOMO, or “fear of missing out,” but the phrase fits. When a festival attendee is experiencing something really cool — an amazing movie, a thoughtful Q&A, a soulful performance in the Music Cafe, an insightful discussion in the Filmmakers Lodge — six other cool things are happening elsewhere at that moment. A wise festivalgoer learns to accept that and enjoy things as they happen.
How to Sundance
When • Jan. 18-28
Where • Park City and venues in Salt Lake City and the Sundance resort in Provo Canyon.
Passes and ticket packages • On sale atsundance.org/festivals.
Individual tickets • Go on sale starting Jan. 16; $25 for the first half of the festival in Park City (Jan. 18-23), $20 for Salt Lake City screenings and for the second half in Park City (Jan. 24-28).
Information • sundance.org/festivals