A First-Timer’s Guide to Sundance Film Festival

I just spent the weekend in Park City, Utah at my first ever Sundance Film Festival!! Growing up as a film nerd, I always had Sundance on my bucket list of places to experience. Then, when I started attending film school in Los Angeles, the possibility of a weekend dancing in the sun seemed much more realistic. So, my senior year, all the stars aligned and off to Sundance I went! Even after a good amount of planning, we still encountered quite a few hiccups. While the Sundance website can answer some of your questions, there was a lot we wished we would have known ahead of time. So here are my tips for your first time attending Sundance Film Festival!!

**Disclaimer: I attended the festival with the Ignite Package (Student Package), so all of my tips are from the perspective of a festival-goer attending in the 10 Ticket/5 Voucher Package range. Those who purchase an upper level “Express Pass” or some equivalent, will have a somewhat different ticketing experience (take me with you!!), but the rest of my tips will still apply!

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Iconic Egyptian Theater!

Ticket Packages/Festival Passes

What are they? – If you are traveling to Sundance from anywhere outside of Park City, I would recommend buying a ticket package. Depending on what level package you purchase, you will get an assortment of credentials, movie tickets, and vouchers. Check to see the specifics for your package level,

When do they go on sale? – Early to Mid October. Check the Sundance website for the exact date for the upcoming festival.

Is there a student ticket? – YES!! It’s called the “Sundance Ignite Package.” The best part is, you don’t even need to be a student. As long as you can prove that you are 18-25 years old when you pick up your festival passes, you are eligible for the Ignite Package. This is amazing because the price is significantly cheaper and you get into exclusive Ignite events that are catered towards student filmmakers. There is also a discounted package for Utah Students.

I already have my ticket package, when can I get my individual screening tickets? – You will get an email from Sundance for your exact date and time when you can select your movie screenings. For the year I attended, we selected our movies during the first week of January.

Planning Out Your Screenings

When you go to select your films during your allocated time, you will need to manually make sure there are no overlaps in your schedule. Unfortunately, the Sundance website does not offer a scheduling system that will tell you if there is an “error” with the specific films you select. By this I mean, you need to make sure you do not select the same movie twice, or select two different movies with overlapping showtimes, or select two different movies at two different theaters that are impossible to get to in time for the showing (but more on this later). The screening times also do not account for the Q&A after the screenings. These normally last about 15 minutes, so plan accordingly.

Be flexible with you schedule and what movies you want to see because you will not know what screenings are already sold out until your allocated time. Keep in mind that the movies with well known actors and directors are the movies that are going to sell out the fastest.

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Many of the screenings sell out, so get there 30 minutes early to make sure you can get in!

By Theater  There are so many amazing movies to pick from, panels to attend, and exciting mixed media exhibits being displayed all throughout Sundance. Because of this, there are various theaters all throughout the Greater Salt Lake City region. If you are staying in Park City (see my later tip on accommodations), I would recommend only selecting movies or events that are in Park City. You might be enticed by the free shuttle system or apparent mileage proximity, but you will have a much easier time by simply staying put in Park City. Nearly everything you will want to see should be playing at least once in Park City during your time at the festival.

By Time – Since there are movies playing in many different theaters make sure you allot enough time to get between the theaters. Now the Sundance website will tell you to get to your theater at least 15 minutes ahead of time OR YOUR TICKET NO LONGER GUARANTEES YOU ADMISSION. Please reread that sentence. To spell it out for you in simpler terms:

15 Minutes Early = LATE

After talking with some lovely volunteers (after a less than lovely misreading of the fine print), I learned that if you want to be absolutely sure you will get into a movie you have a ticket for then you must ARRIVE AT LEAST 30 MINUTES EARLY TO EVERY SCREENING. So, when scheduling your tickets, I would recommend you keep an hour (if not an hour and a half) in between the end of your first showing and the start of your second showing to allow for a stress free journey between theaters. If you have back to back screenings at the same theater, you have nothing to worry about.

Transportation

Walking – NO! LOL We had that romanticized version of Sundance in our head too. Trust me, its freezing and snowing and you’re already going to be walking more than you anticipate. Walking around Downtown Park City is doable (if its not snowing too hard). And by Downtown I mean this fun area around Main Street:

Main Street!

Free Shuttles – If you are staying in Park City, there are free shuttles to all the major hot spots and theaters. The bus drivers are super friendly, and shuttles arrive quick enough where you won’t be standing in the cold for too long. HOWEVER, just because a shuttle arrives that stops at your destination, this in no way means it is an efficient shuttle line. What would have taken 7 minutes in a car, often took us 20-40 minutes on the shuttle. Keep this in mind when rushing to your next screening. If you are attending a night screening, be aware that the shuttles start to taper off at around 10pm and 11pm and stop running at midnight.

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The “Theater Loop” is your best bet!

Uber/Lyft – I believe Lyft was a sponsor the year that I attended the festival. What was really great about this was that all the prices were capped to avoid monstrous surge prices from previous years. With that being said, the shuttles are obviously a cheaper option. However, we used Lyft a few times when we were in a rush and to get back to our hotel after a midnight screening. Totally manageable!

Car Rental – Totally not needed (if you’re staying in Park City)! Perhaps your concern is getting from Salt Lake to Park City? I attended the festival with three other people, and splitting the Lyft/Uber to and from Salt Lake Airport only came to be about $10ish per person. Because we did not have a car, I was not too aware of parking lots/fees. But if you are hell bent on renting a car, I still think shuttling or taking a Lyft would be easier once you’re in Park City. The whole town really shuts down for the festival, but there are TONS of people.

Accommodations

Book early! I mean like right after you get your ticket package in October early. Sundance takes place in Northern Utah in January. Not only are you competing with other Sundancers, but also with those looking for lodging for their ski weekend in the mountains.

Hotels – I’d recommend looking into one of the lodges around Canyons Village or Deer Valley because there are shuttles that will take you into Downtown Park City. Both are also really great places if you are interested in skiing! We split a hotel between the four of us, which was actually cheaper than the available AirBnbs (this surprised us). I’d also recommend seeing if there are any lodging deals through the Sundance website.

AirBnb – While I am always a big proponent of AirBnbs, we just had better luck with hotels. The less expensive AirBnb we were looking into was snagged by someone else just before we could reserve it. When booking though, definitely look into nearby shuttle stops (if that’s how you’re planning on getting around). It snowed on top of the already pretty established snowfall while we were there, so you’re not gonna want to be walking home from a far shuttle stop every night – or maybe you will! I commend you!

Extra Tips and Tricks

Sundance Prices – One of our waiters told us how restaurants jack up their prices in anticipation for the hordes of Sundancers that will be flooding into Park City. To avoid dropping a pretty penny at restaurants, I’d recommend picking up some food to prepare at your hotel/AirBnb/etc (PB&J and cereal anyone?) There’s a grocery store very centrally located that is a main stop on most of the shuttle routes. You can’t miss it. Also, if you are attending on the Ignite Package, most of the Ignite Events had really well prepared free food (they know we’re all starving artists 😉). We definitely took advantage of this for lunch everyday.

Stay for the Q&As – There are Q&As with the filmmakers directly following each screening. Stay!! You never know if you might be talking with the next Ryan Coogler!

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That man second from the right? Nick Offerman.

Go to as many events/screenings as you can! – Chances are, if you’re a cinephile, you aren’t going to see a bad movie. Sure everything might not satisfy your personal taste, but the movies with the most buzz or big name stars are the ones who are going to get major distribution deals and will most likely pop up in theaters or on streaming platforms soon. One of my favorite films from the festival I attended was a random Icelandic movie I selected because I thought it would be fun to see familiar places from my trip to Iceland. I was wayyyy off, but saw one of the most impactful movies I’ve seen in a long time!! So happy with that decision!

Waitlists and Vouchers – We only had luck getting into the screenings off the waitlists if we were in the top 50. With that being said, every screening and theater is different. The more popular the movie and screening time, the less likely you are to get in off the waitlist. (Early morning docs and 11pm screenings will be your best bet!)

You won’t be getting much sleep! – Or maybe we are just crazy, and that was just us…

Bundle Up – Dress like you would in a Winter Wonderland…because that’s where you’re headed! Shoes that can handle wet, slushy snow are a HUGE plus!

If you’ve attended Sundance Film Festival let me know what year you attended and what your favorite movie was that you saw!

 

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