Congratulations. You’ve lost your Sundance virginity. For one reason or another you decided to make the trek to part of a state you probably have never been to before. You’re either featured in this amazing festival, aspiring to make it in this industry, or just a fan of independent films that tell unique stories. One year ago, I was just like you. With intentions to attend this festival as a guest, I decided to volunteer for the full two weeks. The volunteers for this festival are wonderful people who were either first timers like myself or making the journey for two decades.
But during my time at Sundance, words of wisdom were passed along to me from the veterans as well as personal observations that were made by this newcomer. I did not have the passion of being as digitally connected my first year and therefore learned some things on my own. Lucky for you, I can save you a lot of time and confusion if you give me just a few minutes to read these seven suggestions.
- Manage Expectations: There are a lot of films. Exactly 188 feature length films to be exactly. And there is only so much time in the day. About two or three days into the festival you will start to hear buzz about what the film du jour is. Last year it was Fruitvale Station by director Ryan Coogler. As that momentum begins to grow, you can feel the buzz through your phone vibrating on twitter or from old fashioned word of mouth.
Chances are however you don’t have tickets or access to the particular showings for a film. Now you’re stuck waiting in line for one of the remaining tickets. Or maybe you have unlimited access and show up three minutes before the film starts and the theater is already filled. What I can guarantee you is that if you handle the denial to the film like a child, your festival experience very well may be ruined. You can either make a scene or a decision. I’ve seen both of these situations happen first hand and you can probably guess which is a better look.
This is where expectations come into play. You have to realize that you will not make every single film, every panel discussion, & worse of all you may not make every single party. The quicker you learn that lesson and embrace the chaos that is park city, you’ll love the festival even more. There is a momentum to your day & time at Sundance that if you free yourself of those expectations, you never know where the day may take you. It can take you like it did me last year to a lounge with great music filled with makers mark, or to a legendary and unforgettable midnight showing of Hell Boy at the Egyptian. Both have their advantages for totally different reasons. With the right attitude, your experience will be what you make of it.
- Experience and Engage: You may not be able to make every film, but there is also a lot more to the festival. New Frontier, ASCAP Music Cafe, or the Sundance House are just the beginning of the options you have. Alternating the avenues of creativity along your journey can welcome a change from the hours of sitting in dark theater for an entire day. The creativity of the festival goes beyond just the film world. Fantastic live music by small and big acts dominate the afternoon and nightlife. They can lead to adventures you may not have thought you would have experienced before arriving.
Engage with strangers. This is basically a vacation for thousands of people. Think of it as a cold spring break for people of all ages from all over the world. As you wander the downtown and surrounding area, say hi to people and strike up conversation when appropriate. Every person that is at Sundance is excited about something going on, so there is always something to talk about. The word of mouth about that new big film the big party coming up, or just conversation about where people are from. If you’re an introvert, this may be just the chance you need to be outside of that comfort zone around people who for the most part are judgment free and just want to enjoy themselves.
Engage. Engage. Engage.
- Plan properly: This can involve a lot of aspects to your festival experience; Starting with food, clothing and alcohol, three of the most important items in life. But we’ll get to those in a bit. The planning you learn about on the fly at Sundance is the bus system, the water purification units all over town, and the fact that you should show up at least 90 minutes for some of the films. Let’s break this down shall we?
Where your event or film of choice is located is the first step. The theaters in Park City are spread out throughout the region, and some films are even being show in downtown Salt Lake City (40 minutes away). Knowing the location helps you make decisive decisions to how far you care to travel.
Maybe it’s because I come from an East Coast town who has had a history of dysfunctional bus system, but the bus system for the festival is one of the best I’ve ever seen. The shuttles run constantly throughout all of Park City and can get you anywhere you need on the festival route. This requires minimal research and a lot of communication. People waiting at shuttles and volunteers are very informative and can help you out with whatever question you may have. But using the bus to your advantage can make travel a lot easier than you may expect.
Showing up as early as possible for the film you plan to see can lead to a smooth entry most of the time whether you have an advance ticket or not. Make sure you charge your phone in advance or have a mophie case with a backup charger. Some films have people waiting out as early as four hours early. So plan accordingly.
- Booze & Food: The State store edition: Depending on your length of stay, you may be able to sustain booze, excellent dinners out and partying at a nonstop pace. But for the diehards, this festival is a long term commitment. There are other options in Sundance land that help manage your funds, health and time.
There are plenty of amazing restaurants in Park City. But we can’t all have $100 sushi dinners every night as much as we would like to. You can balance that out easily with the free burgers they were giving out a the Morning Star Cafe on Main Street exactly half a block up from the aforementioned sushi dinner I ate last year. That Morning Star Cafe was literally giving away free food for the entire festival. It would be nice to tip the hard working staff they have in place, but that is a decent price for what you’re getting. There are plenty of options for snacks and handouts by businesses looking for you to check in or tweet. You’re a live commercial for them in exchange for them feeding you.
Shopping at the supermarkets is an overlooked and under-appreciated art at Sundance. You should treat that experience as a finite purchase that has a 7-10 day expiration date. You want to buy just the right amount of food you’ll need for your time there with those that you’re with. Maybe I’m a little more food conscious than most, but I hate to waste what I purchase. Therefore the slightest bit of planning can lead to you eating some healthy food that balances out the food and pizza you eat for free at midnight.
Utah is one of the few states that still operates under the state store system. Unless you are from where I am from in Pennsylvania, you probably have absolutely no clue what these are or how they operate. State stores are state ran liquor-wine stores that have more conservative hours and locations than other states. There are only a select few in close proximity to the bulk of the festival. You have to really plan this more than most traveling because of the time constraints they present. Make sure you are well aware of their locations and times prior to the start of your festival or at other moments of importance where alcohol is needed for your festival experience. For locations you can find them at: http://abc.utah.gov/stores/
- Keep the shoe game on point: LA girls. I love all of you. I really do. I see you coming from the west coast in the land of the angels and sun. But this is Park City Utah. There is snow on the ground for the entire 10 days regardless of whether it snows or not. The temperature is unlikely to fall to drastically, but it does not rise much either. The best you can hope for is a sunny day with beautiful sights surrounding you.
What this does lead to more often than not is icy sidewalks and roads. Last year I happen to be walking back to my apartment and met a young woman who had just arrived from LA and had to make it over to Headquarters at the Mariott. She could barely walk on the icy sidewalks and I saw her almost fall twice. After approaching her we quickly realized that she didn’t follow my third tip of planning property. Her boots were made for walking. They were just made for walking down Sunset Boulevard, not Main Street in Park City. After a quick arm to arm stroll by her new prom date escort, I got her to a local shop where she got to do some winter time boots shopping. I have not met a woman yet who hasn’t loved the experience of shoe in the middle of any day. So even if you did bring the right boots, chances are you’ll possibly make a visit over for another pair.
- Stay Connected: There’s a good chance that you’re reading this digitally and therefore are already pretty connected. But if you don’t have a lot of social media in your world…get some. Last year I met all of my roommates through a facebook group of volunteers. I was anti twitter at the time which caused me to miss out on a lot of events I would have loved to have seen. I did manage to make it through the festival with a lot of amazing events and concerts, but the information sometimes moved differently because of the choices I made.
I made a promise to make a change in that thinking for this year and it has already paid off in many ways. The information is presented and I have the choice if I wish to use it or not. But I am far more informed now about the events going on with the festival besides just the film.
- Be yourself: Let’s be clear. There’s a lot of hustling going on out here at Sundance. These movies are made on modest budgets regardless of who’s in them. Producers are looking to get their films purchased and actors, directors and writers are looking to be discovered. Music acts are looking to make it to the big stage and sell a few copies of their albums in the process. But the true success by those that really want to make it are genuine to their true self. That doesn’t mean they’re necessarily humble or genuine. But I’d take an honest asshole over a disingenuous soul any time of the day. Like any cross section of the world gathering in a small ski town for 10 days, you’re bound to meet all walks of life.
This is where the true test comes. You’ll meet all types of people you can or can’t deal with. But following these tips and making them work with your personality will make the experience truly special and memorable. I hope you enjoy this festival as the unique experience that it is. If I was of no help, then please tweet me. I will be more than happy to answer.
Philip Horton is a renaissance man in training. He has a background in education, music and politics. A lover of food and a drinker of wine, Philip has brought an energy to West Chester that many find annoying and overbearing. Committing his life to yoga and reading, he aspires toward goals that are barely attainable. You can find him on twitter @roaminginspace or read other writings at http://roaminginspace.blogspot.com/