This year’s Sundance Film Festival officially began for me in the Salt Lake City airport as paparazzi chased a man that weaved in and out of snowboard bags, dodging cameras and seeking any available exit. I watched locals shake their heads and ask each other who he was. No one recognized him. Maybe we had just witnessed a scene being shot from the making of an indie film?
Those in the “VIP know” with deep pockets were able to helicopter from the airport into a neighboring Park City field for the first few days, until the trips were quashed due to a reported local bison herd disturbance. The rest of us bundled up, and with too much luggage, stepped outside to grab shuttles or cabs for the 30- minute ride into the mountains. But this year, those were not the only options- Uber has changed the climate. No more waiting for a cab that may never come in the freezing weather while sipping smuggled Fireball. My local Salt Lake driver was there within minutes. He told me all about the addition of a new, heated, waiting tent in Park City for Sundance, complete with complimentary Wi-Fi, cell phone chargers, lip balm, mints and red bull. Outside, the 30-car Uber port was manned by helpful staff, efficiently sending festival goers off in every direction. I even had a fun ride in a monster truck to a film- not an every day occurrence in Los Angeles.
Once flights and lodging are buttoned up, nearly everything is free during Sundance, whether you are on lists for the “in” parties or not. Swag and opportunities to register for free trips abound at the various pop-up lounges up and down the old, sloped, mining town’s Main Street. Locals work double shifts, clearing huge money in this ten-day celebration while Sundance volunteers in puffy logo jackets are happy to be in attendance and of assistance.
If you plan on coming to Robert Redford’s festival next year and are interested in seeing any movies at all, buy your tickets online well in advance as most were sold out by the first day of the festival. The climate has changed rapidly with the new Sundance app that introduced e-waitlists and eliminated the need to carry around bulky film guides. Festival goers are now able to peruse the daily electronic list of films as they set alarms on their phones for exactly two hours before their desired screening. It feels a bit like trying to get concert tickets to Janet Jackson in the middle of a networking party as people interrupt conversations to bid for a newly released, available seat. Newbies beware- some films take place in downtown Salt Lake City and require a lengthy and somewhat costly trip out of the mountains and into the valley.
Gone are the days of post carding your indie film that doesn’t have celebs or a studio behind it- only one board with new, daily layers of posters stapled on was spotted. A festival lounge worker told me flyers, posters and business cards would be tossed if left behind. Missing are some of the smaller festivals that used to allow for filmmakers to have their shorts and features screened even if they were not one of the few chosen for Sundance or Slamdance. My suggestion for next year? A party for all of those filmmakers who submitted but weren’t accepted.
Late night parties cropped up in private ski-in/ski-out condos, replacing the Deer Valley mega-lodge parties of yesteryear that flipped their themes daily. Electronic lists on tablets were at every high-end, networking party door like the Weinsteins, A&E, Erica Badu and Sting’s playing venues. (This makes the hiring of a pre-festival publicist a recommended added expense to seriously consider.) Despite the mega stars providing intimate concerts for a very select few, by far the best music came from Talia Keys’ live band gigging at The Spur. The androgynous lead singer rocked her guitar and belted out original and funky/bluesy cover tunes in a manner reminiscent of Janis Joplin.
Mac Africa’s Soirée was the most generous, offering air brushed face painting, sushi, drinks and desert, as well as glittery swag bags for all, loaded with beauty products. Gordon Vasquez from RealTV Films (realtvfilms.com) covered the event with red carpet interviews. The hottest nightclub in the first weekend of the festival was Tao. It was created in a converted parking lot complete with free booze all night, a red carpet, velvet curtained walls, two space-aged, go-go dancers with gold lame ribs, as well as a bass-heavy, hip-hop DJ lineup that packed the dance floor until close. Even Kendra from the “Girls Next Door” fame was spotted cutting loose after filming all day, graciously taking photos with fans.
Of course paying a bit more for an actual local cabbie like “Double D” is an insider’s tip as they are the ones in-the-know about the current hot spot locations hidden and going off at that moment. Unfortunately the much anticipated CAA party Saturday night had to be cancelled due to the blizzard in New York that prevented too many players from flying in.
VR Bars- virtual reality bars were all the rage this year. Warm, dark lounges found people in line watching others turn in circles with various large viewing goggles strapped to their heads. The Sundance Store even sold cardboard boxes that extend to become smart phone projectors- who knew?
Most decent restaurants serving anything but pizza were charging $85.00/person for a 3-course meal. That was IF you had a reservation. (Swag lounges with free power bars came in handy in those moments!) First-timer ladies who didn’t check the weather slid on the icy, slanted sidewalks in three inch, open-toed heels, bare-legged and clinging to each other, insisting that not having shaved their legs was keeping them warm.
Beware; it’s hard on your body to drink alcohol (even the reduced content kind sold in Utah) in the increased altitude. Ibuprofen for body aches, naproxen for headaches and electrolyte water are necessities. Best drinks on the menu? Gatorade and vodka or if your throat starts to tickle, a “Hottie Toddie” to ward off any creeping ailment. Don’t forget your vitamins, or the $18.00 warm-air vaporizer at the local drug store that will be your best bedfellow. Despite your efforts, don’t be surprised if the “high-altitude hack” inevitably creeps up however. Laughing becomes a phlegm affair and polite company ignores the occasional gritty cough into the inside of a turtleneck.
Vail’s purchase and installation of a new gondola linking the old Canyons and Park City snow resorts has made it the largest ski resort in America. But during the Sundance Film Festival, the slopes are nearly empty, allowing for those in-the-know to enjoy short lift lines and the occasional celeb/mega-producer sighting at Stein Erickson’s Lodge during Après ski at Deer Valley.
As always, the networking did not disappoint. Filmmakers from across the country were in attendance to connect and promote their project’s various needs. Mitch Levine, President of The Film Festival Group in Los Angeles, helps filmmakers plan festival market acquisition and festival strategies. A filmmaker himself for the dance documentary Morphinggravity.com, he was also seeking funding for a feature length version, much as I was for my short film Eternal Waltz (EternalWaltzFilm.com). Producer/actors like Vincent De Paul were in the mix promoting the success of his feature “Beverly Hills Christmas” starring Dean Cain and Donna Spangler, which screened daily before the holidays on UP TV and has a sequel in progress. Simply trusting in the travel zen of being open to making connections and seeing where it leads you is a great tip for navigating the masses of events and individuals.
If you return to your respective local without having passed out the majority of the business cards you brought with you, then you have missed out on one of the most condensed and diverse networking opportunities in the film community. Don’t let Tuesday’s lull as the first wave of Sundancers leave and the second is about to arrive fool you… the festival continues to thrive with award banquets, lounges and screenings until the last day of the festival. The challenge then becomes to follow up with all the contacts you have made… that is once you have unpacked, cleaned up that pesky hack and re-adjusted back to your own altitude. Sooner than you think January will roll around and you’ll be packing that extra layer of long johns to traverse the upward slope of Main Street.