Ask anyone in the film business for their favourite film festivals and you will be sure to find that visiting Sundance Film Festival is close to the top of their list. This is the most prestigious film festival in the United States and the most important Indie Film festival in the world. It is also an early predictor of the year’s trends; a networking hub for filmmakers; a forum for discussing issues that affect film and media, and a place to spot celebrities in puffy jackets.
Every January, film stars, critics, filmmakers, industry insiders, and celebrity hunters head to the mountains for this 10-day extravaganza of premieres, screenings, panel discussions, talks, events, and parties.
Attending a film festivals though, even for experienced pros is not easy to get ‘right’. Stay in an inconvenient hotel, buy the wrong package and plan the inappropriate transport options and you can spend ages chasing your tail and wasting time and money. Here is CELLOPHANLAND’s guide to visiting Sundance Film Festival and making the best of the fest:
WHERE TO STAY
We could just say book the most expensive local hotel and for this the usual suspects would be the Waldorf Astoria Park City, St Regis Deer Valley and Montage Deer Valley. They are all big, modern and well, somewhat dull. A step up would be the Stein Eriksen Lodge (above) – a little more interesting and a luxurious slope-side option.
If you really must stay in Park City The Washington Schoolhouse (above) is the best – a beautifully converted historic building, but with just 12 rooms you will need to book early.
However, we think you should definitely consider a couple of other options before booking Park City. Sundance Mountain Resort, Robert Redford’s own ski resort, is located in a scenic and secluded valley in the Timpanagos Range. Although it’s about 40 minutes from central Park City, it is also a festival venue and has its own excellent screening room. Not only are the mountain lodge style accommodations beautifully designed in a tasteful mountain chic style, but it has its own ski mountain.
Zermatt Mountain Resort is another great option. This is a 4* resort hotel with a Swiss theme. There are plenty of nods to European mountain style with stone fireplaces, imitation half-timbered buildings, carved wood and panelled walls. It has its own spa and bakery plus casual or fine dining options. Despite being just 20 minutes from central Park City you can stay in luxury suites at half Park City rates. It is also half way to Sundance Resort (above). Brilliant!
BUYING YOUR TICKETS & PASSES
For non-festival goers the system here (and elsewhere) is initially quite confusing and it is hard to work out how best to see the films you want. Put simply, the reason for this is that you cannot actually buy specific tickets more than a few weeks in advance – Festival schedules are always undecided until close to the date.
The usual system is that you buy either Passes (expensive, full access), Packages (a set number of tickets and sundry benefits) or wait and buy Individual Tickets once the schedule is set and tickets are released (beware, films may already be full with Pass and Package holders). At Sundance, Passes & Packages go on sale in mid October.
Passes are costly – excepting off peak these start around $2000 and are more expensive for the first half of the Festival – but allow unlimited priority access to all screenings. Buy if you can!
Ticket packages offer bundles of 10 tickets for you to use or share as you wish. As with the Passes prices for the first half of the festival are loaded. For the second half, they also include two award party tickets for the Saturday night. This should be a minimum purchase for a serious festival-goer.
Locals get an earlier chance to purchase – cheaper, more flexible and at lower costs. If you can’t find a local friend to buy a package for you don’t fret, it is extremely unlikely passes or packages will sell out before being publicly available anyway – you will just pay a bit more.
You then have to wait until your name goes in to a random draw mid December and you will automatically be emailed your time slot. This is within a window of about 4 days in January. This is after the film schedule is set – you get the time and day when you can access the Festival website to fix seats for the screenings.
Pray for an earlier slot with a better chance of getting what you want. Ours, this year, was in the middle of the window but we still got all the screenings we wanted.
Individual Tickets go on sale at the end of January – but many films with any sort of buzz around them may well be booked out by then. For anyone travelling just for the Festival this is not recommended – buy a pass or package if you want any sort of film choice.
Last resort is using the eWaitlist system. It’s pretty efficient and works via an app or terminals at theatres. Two hours prior you can register, get a number and see your likelihood of getting in. Be organised and quick on the button and you will have a pretty good chance. You still have to purchase a ticket of course – $20 cash only.
Visiting Sundance Film Festival screenings there is officially no parking at the venues, instead there is an efficient and regular free shuttle bus service running on various loops. Nevertheless you will find there will be plenty of hanging around at bus stops. Allow lots of time and get to screenings at least 45 mins early. And always carry snacks and water!
Despite the official ‘No Parking available’ line – especially irritating for those driving from out of town – there is actually easy parking at the Church of Latter Day Saints on Lucky John Drive for screenings at the Eccles Centre (5 minutes walk) plus plenty of multi-storey space on Swede Alley adjacent to Main Street for the Egyptian Theatre and everything downtown. For other venues you should plan to park for free for the day at Ecker Hill or Richardson flat. See the map here.
WHERE TO HANG OUT
Before, after and between screenings there is only one place to be: Main Street. It is here that all the Festival Sponsors set up shop with showrooms, stages, and spots to sit and comfortably spend the whole day enjoying the festival buzz accompanied by free music, coffee and snacks. With festival Credentials (you get this with Passes and Packages only) there is access to extra discussions, conversations and events.
Year on year similar sponsors tend to pop up and in 2020 you are likely to see all the usual suspects. In 2019 the Filmmaker lodge had regular talks whilst over the road, The Chase lounge was free to all – with a Sapphire card (or sign up on the day) you could get access to a lounge for Coppola Wine and more culinary treats. Pizza hut served up … Pizza…. Essential Costa Rica had great coffee and Stare cosmetics offered pro make-up sessions. The Acura lounge was a good spot to relax with a fresh cappuchino and some chocs whilst at the end of the afternoon the imdb Acura tent had live music.
There’s plenty more of course as well as exclusive parties and events linked to specific films and companies – just keep your eyes and ears open and try your luck!
In case you had not noticed Park City is part of one of the biggest and best ski regions in the USA – it would be criminal not to spend at least a few days exploring. The slopes are pretty empty too – everyone is busy at the Festival after all!
For Film Festival information visit Sundance Film Festival
To buy Sundance 2020 Film Festival tickets visit Sundance Tickets
Looking for Sundance accommodation read our review or book at Sundance Mountain Resort
Zermatt Resort accommodation read our review or book at Zermatt Resort & Spa
Skiing information visit Park City Mountain Resort