How to go to Sundance

Before we went to the Sundance Film Festival last month, I always assumed that it was exclusive to celebrities, industry insiders and others with the right connections. So, not us.

But no — it’s totally easy for common people like us to go! Proof: here we are, waiting for the movie that won the grand jury prize for drama (“Beasts of the Southern Wild“).

sundance film festival

And, I wore just one pair of shoes for the entire trip and never felt over/under dressed. When’s the last time you packed a single pair of shoes for vacation? (Me: never). But more on that later.

If you don’t know what you’re doing, I see how Sundance could be a confusing experience. We were lucky enough to go with people who had been a few times before. And, one person in their circle even lives in Park City, Utah, where the festival happens, and he and his girlfriend were like Sundance Google. Or, Sundance concierges? They knew just how early to show up to a movie to get a good seat, how to score a ticket to a sold out movie, how to get around, etc.

Having gone to Sundance once, I now feel like a bit of an expert on how to take it all in. We saw eight movies during our four days there, and though Jeff and I didn’t ski, the rest of the group did. Still, we met them for apres ski drinks daily at cool places like the St. Regis resort, which is more my speed anyway. We drank locally-made beer and spirits and had one really fantastic dinner out.

We went to Sundance. And so can you.  Here’s how:

rental house in park city

WHERE TO STAY

If you have more than six people in your group, rent a house. Expect to pay $800-$1,000 per night depending on location and accommodations.

We had eight people at our house (above), which was two blocks from downtown Park City. The location was great; though the theaters aren’t downtown, the action is downtown, and staying near the action was fun. We gave a grocery list to the property manager — a common service with rentals — so when we arrived late on the first night, the kitchen was stocked with beer, snacks and breakfast for the morning. Win!

There was plenty of space, a cozy fireplace, flat screen TVs in every room (we never turned them on), a hot tub and parking spots for our rental cars (a note about cars: at first they seemed like a hassle, but they were helpful for getting to the theaters, rather than traveling by shuttle).

waiting for a movie at sundance

SEEING MOVIES

OK, let’s start with buying tickets. Tickets are $15-$22, depending on how you buy them — and even if you scalp them from some random guy 10 minutes before the show starts, you shouldn’t expect to pay more. You’ll have a better chance of getting tickets to the popular movies if you buy a ticket package ahead of time — the tickets cost more, $22, but it’s worth it for must-see movies that are buzz-worthy or have big-name actors.

Our Sundance concierges knew to buy the ticket packages ahead of time. Soon after, the remaining tickets are sold lottery system style. We filled in the gaps this way, but most of the tickets for the notable movies were gone by then. You can also snag last-minute tickets at the door.

inside the tent at sundance

So, you have a ticket, and that’s great, but if you want a decent seat and you want to sit with your friends, you’ll have to line up about 45 minutes to an hour beforehand. The key is to get there early enough to line up inside the tent (that’s us doing just that, above) because, well, it’s cold outside.

The audiences at Sundance laugh, gasp and clap way more than a traditional movie audience. People are into it. In some cases, the movie is being screened for the first time ever. That’s something to get excited about!

And, often, after the movie is over, the director and maybe some of the cast will answer questions. Wonder what the casting was like? Or how a certain scene was shot? Just stick your hand in the air and ask. After seeing the very intense “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” which received the grand jury prize for drama, we heard from the director (2nd from left) and the young girl who played the main character (far right):

WHAT ELSE?

Jeff and I didn’t ski, but others in our group did. When others hit the slopes, we took in more movies or checked out the surroundings. One afternoon, we went to the Montage Deer Valley, a fancy, elegantly Western resort with gorgeous views:

(P.S.: Curious about rates here, I looked them up on my phone later. $1,000+ per night during peak season. So. )

And though we didn’t ski, we did take part in the daily afternoon tradition of apres ski, which is basically happy hour that takes place outside with overpriced drinks.

Apres ski at the St. Regis Deer Valley  resort, where Marybeth and I drank super delicious hot chocolates spiked with amaretto and Baileys:

A few other tidbits…

FOR LUNCH

Head to No Name Saloon, a casual institution in downtown Park City. Sure, it’s decorated like an independently-owned TGIFriday’s, but the steak chili, homemade chips and Wasatch beer (locally brewed) hit the spot one afternoon. People say you can spot celebs here, but we didn’t see any, and we even had a good view of who was coming and going through the entrance.

FOR DINNER

We cooked at our rental house most nights because it was the easiest way to keep the group together, but one evening, a few of us ventured to High West Distillery & Saloon, a whiskey distillery and restaurant downtown. Here, we had great cocktails, service and food. The decor was rustic-chic and familiar: High West’s tables, chairs and water glasses are exactly what we have at home.

A PARTING NOTE ON PACKING

For the most part, Park City is a casual town that loves functional fashion. A few sweaters, slim jeans, a sporty puffy coat and snow boots are all you need. Don’t bother with heeled boots — every girl who I saw wearing these just looked like she was trying too hard. There’s ice and snow everywhere!

I packed one pair of shoes: the incredibly warm Sorel snow boots below. They felt appropriate wherever I went.

Sundance, you’re alright!

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