Sundance Film Festival: First-Timer’s Tips for Having the Ultimate Experience


The Sundance Film Festival has always been on my bucket list and this year I finally got to go. Even though I wasn’t starring in any buzz worthy independents, I jumped at the opportunity to write for Ms.In the Biz at this illustrious festival. Here are my tips and take aways from spending 8 days tucked away among the snow capped mountains.

Going to the festival

Get a pass
I went on press credentials that I submitted online in November, and I got the official approval on Dec. 14th. If you are writing for a recognizable site that features entertainment, you mos def need to apply for press credentials! But there are other ways to gain access if you plan on attending.

Shorts Program QA at the Egyptian
Shorts Program QA at the Egyptian

The Ignite Package is for 18-24 year olds that want to experience the fest and grants you access to a lot of the great panels and special events like Speed Dating with the Filmmakers and Networking Lunch. This youth pass buys you 10 screening tickets and 5 screening vouchers that you can redeem first come first serve the day of.

For those of you older and somewhat wiser folks with a few extra coins, packages start at $300 and go up to $3500. If you can afford that Express Package, I also recommend UberCHOPPER and invite me to your private party in your condo next year. I am always happy to finish off that bottle of Cristal in your hot tub.


photo 2JPG

Have a film in the festival
Even if you are not the filmmaker or starring talent, you can still show up and ride the coat tails of the film you appear in because the majority of Sundance is about the networking and meetings. I am a film junky and can sit in theater for 10 hours straight watching films. Not everyone is. You can also do this with a Slamdance film, which takes place at the Temple Mountain resort at the top of Main Street. Slamdance might be the bastard child of Sundance, but it’s definitely worth checking out while you are there.

photo 3

Props to all 2,000 volunteers. Every single one of them were rockstars. They must have screened out the assholes because they all were the nicest people who went out of their way to help you. I know my personality profile would have been tossed if I applied for that job.

photo 4

Getting Around

Park City is a small ski town and it’s really easy to get to places, but this New Yorker learned you can’t walk to every venue on Day 1. Lucky for anyone visiting, they have a super amazing transit system in town and getting there is not as nearly as difficult as one would think. 

Take the Bus
Buses are free to all the theaters and to Main Street. Note: they do not put Sundance HQ on Main Street, it’s located at the Marriot a few stops away. Buses come relatively quickly and there are many volunteers ready to help you where need to go.

There is a bus that drops off from Salt Lake City, making it possible to commute from there if you are really doing this on the cheap. The 902 PC SLC connect has two early AM buses and one 4:50PM bus back to SLC for $4.50 per trip. There is a connection from the Tracks Greenline train that takes you to and from the airport that is around the corner from the bus stop off Main Street, SLC.

Search Craigslist
My travel partner found a guy off craigslist looking to make extra cash who will pick you up from the airport in Salt Lake and drive to Park City for a negotiated rate of $20. Most regulated services can run you $50 to $100 one way to get you door to door once you get off the plane. However, it is use at your own risk.

Rent a car
Don’t let the other people scare you about bringing your car or renting one. Yes, parking is a bit troublesome but you can park near the free shuttles to make it worth it. Or you can pay for parking which can run you anywhere from $10 to $45. I did find cheap daily rates off Kayak from Salt Lake City as low as $15 a day on a compact car in November, but closer to the festival they jumped to $60 a day.

To Uber or not to Uber
Is it really a question? As one of the festival Sponsors, they were suppose to have in their contract no surge pricing during Sundance. That certainly did not happen. My condo was ten minutes away and Uber would cost us $20 to $30 to get there. As a group it was pretty easy to jump in a car after a late night but to take it for myself, well the waiting for a free bus was just fine for me.

Recharging both you and your phone

Bring extra batteries for all your electronics. Take advantage of the pop up lounges that are riddled up and down Main Street. Places like the Airbnb Haus will have plenty of outlets to plug in but you might have to wait out for a spot. Did I mention that at each lounge you will find wine bars or hot toddy specials during select hours that will help with that wait? You’re welcome.

You probably won’t eat

I didn’t believe musician and filmmaker, Stuart Murdoch, when he said he didn’t eat or hardly see anything while he was there premiering his film God Help the Girl. Yet with places being so packed and all you’re you are doing is running is from point A to point B, I understand the momentary anorexia. I found that I became a bit overwhelmed by the smorgasbord of options and sitting down to enjoy a meal was on the bottom of my list of things to do. During a happy hour with press and filmmakers, I saw a buffet devoured in less than two minutes because everyone was on the same No One Here Eats diet. I do give serious props to the pizza joint Davanza’s at the bottom of Main Street where I had delicious slices and great local brews without the price gouging. FYI: most restaurants jacked up the prices on their menus during the festival. I went to a place that charged $9 for a side order of fries. Regular fries! That is sheer madness.

What to Wear

Gone are the days of people dressed all in black on the mountain. I found that everyone had a take on the ski town attire during the festival and anything from fresh off the slopes onesies to designer furs were totally acceptable at all hours. My friend Nunzi recommended wearing snow bunny cute fashion. I brought my white Vince Camuto puffy jacket and grabbed a discounted pair of Khombu snow booties that broke the ice during my interview with Debra Zimmerman of Women Makes Movies. I kept a pair of cute shoes for dancing in my oversized bag along with a skirt and swimsuit. You never know when you’ll need to jump into a hot tub. Huzzah!

Be fucking nice, ok

Going up to strangers and introducing yourself was encouraged during the festival. I found myself talking to everyone, patrons and locals alike. That is not how you walk around the gritty streets of New York City but maybe it was the combination of mountain air and the collection of out-of-towners that allowed for this freedom of getting to know everyone. One issue that was called to my attention was that Park City residents found most of the festival a nuisance to their day-to-day small town living. Local businesses get taken over and most lose money because us Hollywood types are trying to get into the hottest party of the day. However, I love living like a local and discovering places like The Spur, a bar and local music venue, to grab a decent cocktail or chatting with the owner of Electric Chair, an old style barbershop on Main Street, about renting his chairs for events and what to do outside of the festival. I did find it hard to be on a bus going back to Salt Lake City and hearing all the trash talk about festival goers not respecting this cozy ski town with their party lifestyle and entitlement.

The Screenings
I went on the Working Press Pass and I found out on Day 1 that I couldn’t just show up to every Press & Industry screening as I had originally planned. A Working Press Pass is a limited pass that allows the credentialed holder access to these screenings 5 minutes before the showtime if there is room available. You can also get up to 10 tickets throughout the festival from the press box office by going to Headquarters and requesting available tickets for the screenings you want to see. That is if the screening is not sold out. I tried to get the early morning screenings but found myself sleeping through a number of them because of the parties.

photo 5

Some highlights of what I saw were documentaries MAPPLETHORPE presented by HBO and SONITA (my favorite which won both World Cinematic Grand Jury Prize & Audience Award in documentary), along with features EQUITY by Broad Street Pictures, GOAT starring Nick Jonas, and Kevin Smith’s YOGA HOSERS.

My binge watching list extends well beyond my article word limit, so let’s just say I saw more movies than went to parties.

Yeah, you want to get into the parties. The great thing about staying in a house filled with people from different places in the industry is that we all had our “in” some place and would share the invitations to the hot parties each night. This is where pacing and taking care of yourself is vital during the festival. Too much booze and not enough sleep will get you sick quick and really piss off your roommates. Drink your water! Take your vitamins! Thank God the Sundance TV lounge had set up an oxygen bar sponsored by Geico, who also handed out compressed bottles of the stuff, which I sucked on during my whole stay. I also had tickets to a few hosted press parties and a lot of invites by the publicist from each film, which I found out was not always honored. I did have one revoked by a person two hours before the party after getting a confirmation RSVP to that same party. The great thing is that there is so much going on that you can always go next door and discover a better party.

photo 6

Get there EARLY
I like to sit close and next to an exit, so getting there early was pretty important to me. I didn’t mind waiting 45 minutes in line to get into events because it gave me the opportunity to chat with other festival goers. I definitely met my share of truly fascinating people and had incredible conversations that continued after screenings at the local watering hole near the theater. I was asking everyone what they saw and what they liked, which helped me tailor my viewing schedule and even get me dates. Yes, you can even find some romance at the ‘dance if you are looking for it. Tee hee!

If this industry is all about relationship building, then this the mother of all matchmaking events and a must for anyone in entertainment. One last pro-tip: save space in your carry on for cool swag.

photo 7