|One of the illustrations for this piece by Cal Grondahl|
The people who run film festivals struggle with this question constantly: Is the festival for the general public or those in the business?
The suspicion on John Q. Public's part is that film festivals are for cineastes -- nose-in-the-air film buffs and glitter people. But that's not the case, at least in Utah. The 30,000 or so people who flock to the Sundance United States Film Festival in Park City every year are mostly regular folks looking for different film fare than that offered at their neighborhood malls.
So, in the interest of destroying the myth that film festivals are the exclusive domain of filmmakers, actors, producers, journalists and the rich, here's a thumbnail instruction manual on how to enjoy yourself at the Sundance United States Film Festival, which runs Jan. 19-28 in Park City.
Expect something completely different. Most of the movies at the festival are independent productions (in both documentary and narrative film categories) made by people without gobs of studio money. Sometimes the production values are a little rough, but the vision and the ideas are unique -- unlike the homogenized stories in so many popular movies.
You may obtain a festival film guide, which describes each of the films, at Inkley's (1660 Washington Blvd. and 3151 Harrison Blvd.), Wildflower Bakery (4387 Harrison Blvd.), and Alpha Photo (2450 Washington Blvd.). For a complete schedule of films, see the listing in this section.
Tickets may be purchased at various locations, but the easiest way for people in the Ogden area may be to phone 322-1700 and reserve your tickets by credit card. If you reserve more than one screening's worth, all the tickets must be picked up and paid for at least 15 minutes prior to your first screening at that theater's box office (that way, they won't be tacked onto your charge card).
If you like to buy tickets in person, you can purchase them at the Cosmic Aeroplane in Salt Lake City, Monday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., until one day prior to the screening date. Or, if you're in Park City, you can buy them at the Park City Adventure Center, 514 Main Street, between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. through Sunday, Jan. 14. After that, you may purchase tickets at the festival's box office, 1890 Bonanza Drive, beginning Monday, Jan. 15. The box office will be open between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. through Jan. 19, and 10 a.m. to. 8 p.m. from Jan. 20 through Jan. 28. Tickets are usually priced at $5 for competition and most sidebar screenings, and $10 to $15 for special screenings and premieres.
Despite what you might think, when someone says a screening is sold out, it isn't. It works this way: A lot of seats are reserved for festivalgoers who cough up $100 to $750 for various ticket packages. Naturally, a percentage of these people don't show up -- probably because they're too busy clinking champagne glasses or calling their brokers.
To fill the vacant seats, festival workers start compiling a waiting list an hour before the screening begins. Then, 15 minutes before showtime, they begin letting the people on standby in the door. So, it is possible -- likely, even -- to get into a sold-out screening if you don't mind standing in line. Be warned, however, that the waiting lists have a nasty habit of accumulating names 90 minutes before a screening begins, no matter what the rules say. So, get there early.
If you're planning to be in Park City for one day only, it's probably not necessary to rent a hotel room or condo. But if you're planning to attend events or screenings on consecutive days, a room is essential. Driving back and forth to Park City from the Ogden area is tedious and, in the winter, can be a dangerous prospect. There aren't many bargains during ski season, but reasonably priced rooms may be available if you start looking early.
Scheduling your day
Even if you see four films back-to-back, the starting times are staggered so that you can usually make it from one theater to the next -- all of which are half a mile or more away from each other -- with ease. But you need to know where you can park and/or grab a quick bite to eat between screenings.
There is ample room, usually, at the Holiday Village Cinemas and Prospector Square Theatre. But the Egyptian Theatre is another matter. The best bet is the parking terrace directly behind the theater; it usually has a few vacant slots (if you don't like cleaning snow or frost off your car; this is a good choice). Or you can park along Swede Alley -- a long, narrow expanse of land running north and east of the theater -- which is commonly used as a parking lot. The odds of finding a parking place in front of the Egyptian, or anywhere on Park City's Main Street, are infinitesimal.
If you're not into hunting parking places, there is a free shuttle bus service that runs between theaters every 30 minutes. A schedule is printed in the film guide, or you may pick one up at the festival offices, 1890 Bonanza Drive.
Park City has far too many restaurants to list and quantify. But there are two old reliables that we find to be good year-in and year-out. When we need to catch a meal between screenings on a fairly quick (and inexpensive) basis, we hit the Park City Pizza Co. or Texas Red's Pit Barbecue, since both are just a few doors down Main Street from the Egyptian Theatre.
Celebrities and filmmakers
Going ga-ga over famous people is not the best thing to do at any time; but it's downright foolish at a film festival. They are there to watch films like you are, so you can simply engage them in conversation as you would anyone. In this setting you'll discover that, in most cases, famous people are a lot like the people you live next door to -- except they have a great deal more money and power, and faces that are recognized by hundreds of thousands, or millions, of people.
Use this rule of thumb to spot famous and/or talented people: The more shabbily dressed they are, the bigger their celebrity or power position in the film industry.
Beware the people wearing fur coats, designer ski suits or glittering evening attire. With few exceptions, you can be certain these people are members of the local ski-town aristocracy, people who never seem to learn that to dress conspicuously is to be the butt of many whispered jokes.
One of the best things about the festival is that you never -- ever -- need to get all gussied up for a night out. Standard dress usually includes jeans or casual pants, flannel shirts or T-shirts, boots or sneakers, and a heavy coat. Many people come right off the slopes and into the theaters.
The only exception to this rule is the opening night gala in Salt Lake City, when everyone arrives in gowns, tuxedos and best dress. Then the festival's patron saint, Robert Redford, strolls in wearing jeans and a sweater, letting the air out of the local snobs' balloons.
This time-honored sport is practiced in Park City, as it is everywhere movie people congregate. It's tiresome in conversations, but can be both fascinating and educational when eavesdropping on a desperate director or screenwriter who's trying to interest a producer or studio film buyer in his or her work.
A consequence of relentless movie watching is the numbing of your backside. To avoid this malady, arrive at the theater early, stake out your seats with your coat(s) and remain standing for as long as possible before the lights go down.
Unless you're a dazzling conversationalist, you'll have troubling filling time between films. Skimming through the film guide is fun for the first movie or two, but after that you'll need to start (or finish) reading that novel that's been collecting dust in your bookcase.