Sundance Survival Guide: 5 Essential Sundance Film Festival Tips

Sundance tips from a former New Yorker who has worked the festival for 5+ years and now lives in Utah.

Sundance Film Festival: Egyptian Theater
Travis Wise (CC BY 2.0)

Are you planning on attending the Sundance Film Festival? I’m a former New Yorker now living in Utah and have exhibited at the Sundance Film Festival for over 5 years. Here are some of my Sundance survival tips to help you make the best of your experience.

01) What To Wear At Sundance

Model Fashion Attractive Female Glamour People
Nissor (FB: nissor.abdourazakov)

Planning your outfits at Sundance can be tricky. You need to be prepared for both warm and cold weather, and for lots of walking. Here are some tips on what to wear at Sundance.

  • Dress Code: Park City is a “resort casual” town. If you’ve ever been to a luxury ski resort before, then you’ll know how to dress. You need to be prepared to walk through the snow as well as into a VIP party. Boots, puffy jackets with hoods, and a warm hat are all common. You can dress up your outfit using things like designer sunglasses, jewelry, and scarves. It’s a delicate balance.
  • Footwear: Only wear waterproof winter boots. Do NOT wear heels, dress shoes or open-toed anything. Park City is hilly and there’s often lots of snow on the ground. Every year I see a group of women struggling to walk on the hilly snow-covered sidewalks in heels. It’s easy to tell who is attending their first Sundance by what shoes they are wearing.
  • Layers: Mountain climates can be difficult to plan for. Be prepared to go through all 4-seasons in one day. The Utah sun can be very hot. It also might randomly snow at any time. Wear layers and bring a bag or backpack to help manage your layers of stuff.
  • Warm Accessories: Your outfit should include a hat, gloves, and scarf. Even if you aren’t a hat person (like my dad) you will still need one. The mountains can get cold and windy. Don’t worry about messing up your hair. It’s totally acceptable to wear a wool hat at a fancy party in Park City.
  • Sunglasses: Bring sunglasses. Utah is usually very sunny, especially high in the mountains of Park City. You also might want them to help shield your eyes while you ogle at celebrities.

02) Getting Into Sundance Parties & Events

There are hundreds of parties, screenings, happy hours, brunches and other events that take place during Sundance. They are usually organized by PR agencies or local Utah promoters.

  • Event RSVPs: The PR agencies will send out massive amounts of event RSVP emails the week before and during Sundance with RSVP requests. If you get access to an RSVP opportunity, take it ASAP. Lists fill up very fast.
  • Press badge or media credentials: If you know someone who works for a TV or radio station or popular website, then buddy up with them and be their +1. Press can flash their badge and pretty much walk into anywhere at Sundance. The filmmakers are in town to promote their films. Any opportunity to do that will usually get you through the door. NOTE: Only works for a +1, not for groups.
  • Bribe: If you watch carefully, you’ll probably see people walk up to the bouncers and have a quiet conversation. Then after a handshake, they walk right in. There’s probably a $20 bill hidden in that handshake.

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03) Sundance Lodging Deals

Park City Utah Town Architecture Colorful Travel - Sundance Survival Guide
Michelle Maria (@hawaiianbarbee)

The biggest issue most people have during the festival is finding affordable Sundance lodging deals. It’s a good idea to book early. Otherwise, you need to be prepared to pay much higher rates. In addition to the film festival, lodging options are often taken by people on ski vacations. In Utah, there’s no business like snow business.

  • City Hotels: Set a reminder and book your hotel during the summer right after Sundance announces festival dates. Hotels fill up fast and often the only rooms left are very expensive suites. If you want to walk around downtown and ski, then the Marriott Summit Watch is a good choice. Treasure Mountain Inn is another hotel directly on Main Street. However, it’s also the location for another film festival that takes place during Sundance called Slamdance.
  • Resort Hotels: And if luxury is more important than location, then the Stein Eriksen Lodge is a very nice 5-star hotel with ski access. Same with the St. Regis Deer Valley. There will be plenty of taxis to shuttle you between screenings and events downtown and the hotels can help arrange cars for you. Just tell them in advance of your pickup times.
  • Airbnb: If you miss out on affordable hotels, then try searching Airbnb. You might find some last-minute deals. And if you have a large group, renting a house makes more sense anyway. Try renting a house that’s walking distance to Main Street in Park City. Vet them carefully. Here are a couple of options:

04) Attending Sundance Film Screenings

Movie Tickets

Honestly, I’ve either worked or attended Sundance almost a dozen times and I’ve never been to a movie. Not a single one. But I’ve acquired plenty of tickets and helped get clients and VIPs into screenings.

  • Sundance Film Tickets: If you want film tickets, then be aggressive and plan ahead. Sundance Film Festival tickets go on sale in September and they sell out in a few hours. The Festival Pass gets you into most screenings. If you only want to see a few films, then get a cheaper ticket package.
  • Slamdance Film Tickets: An alternate film festival, called Slamdance, takes place during Sundance. Films that don’t get accepted into Sundance will usually become part of Slamdance. Slamdance tickets can be easier to obtain and are still great films.
  • Sundance Ticket Lines: Get in line very early for any films that you really want to see. Sadly, a ticket does NOT guarantee a seat. Often times celebrities and A-listers will just walk in with their entourages and take up large amounts of seats. I’ve seen Sundance staff try to stop them with no success. Actors will say things like, “Are you really going to try and stop me from seeing the premiere of my own movie?”
  • Late Night Screenings: Becuase there are so many films and so few theaters, film screenings will go late into the night. This is often your best chance to see a popular movie at the festival.

05) Sundance Parking & Transportation

Park City during Sundance Film Festival (Day)
Michael R Perry (CC BY 2.0)

Parking in Park City during Sundance is impossible, and traffic is really bad. Your best bet is to stay somewhere near Main Street like the Marriott’s Summit Watch and walk everywhere or just take taxis.

  • Parking Pass: If a car is vital for your needs, then a Park City garage parking pass is your best option. The public garages that are normally free are locked down during the festival. Garage parking passes cost about $800 during Sundance. You can get them on ParkCity.
  • Daily Parking: The garages will have a few daily spots available each day. Just arrive before 8:00 am to get a spot. China Bridge and the Marriott are both big garages with daily parking spots available. However, expect to pay $50-$100 per day.
  • Bribes: Bring cash. The “Lot Full” sign at the parking garage is a lie. Every car that leaves a lot means there’s an open spot. But the gate attendants want a bribe. A $10-$20 “tip” has helped me get in a garage for many years.
  • Bus: You can park for free at the local Park City High School’s parking lot. Free buses will shuttle you from the parking lot to Main Street. But because traffic is so bad, it’s often faster to walk the mile uphill. Just remember that Park City, Utah is 10,000 feet above sea-level. If you are from a zero elevation city, like Los Angeles or New York City, and out of shape, then the walk may be impossible for you. It might be a good idea to start working out as part of your Sundance Film Festival trip planning process.

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Sundance Survival Guide: 5 Essential Sundance Film Festival Tips

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