Sundance & Park City– a newbies guide

By Christopher Ryan

I went to college in Utah and would spend many holidays up in Park City because it was uncharacteristic of most of Utah.  It was liberal and truly a vacation destination.  During Sundance, I partied hardy and like many Utahns, paid little attention to the festival.  When I moved to Los Angeles to work in the entertainment business, I discovered that Sundance is one of the most important film festivals for “the industry” as we like to call it.  Sundance is the premiere film festival in the country—where studio films are shown first and some of the most important films, filmmakers and actors of our time have been discovered.  In fact, for that 10 day stretch in January, Hollywood comes to a screeching halt and transplants itself to this snowy little ski town to watch movies and do deals.  Imagine hundreds of movie execs and celebrities with their Ray Bans and Ugh boots descending on this town along with the indie filmmaking set from New York.  There's rumor that the locals call them collectively "pibs: people in black" because of the clothing worn. 

In 1999—my first Sundance Film Festival as a junior film executive (glorified assistant in my case) for Bette Midler’s production company, I chronicled my adventures on Ain’t It Cool News with advice for those on a Motel 6 budget.  Bette didn’t pay my way, go figure!  After attending even more Sundance's since then, I’ve become a veteran.

Lay of the Land

The Sundance Film Festival takes place in Park City, Utah from January 20 – 30th, 2005.  The nearest airport is in Salt Lake City, Utah and it’s a $40 cab ride or $25 shuttle ride to Park City.  Ground transportation to Park City can be easily arranged when you arrive at the SLC airport.  While screenings do take place in Salt Lake City and Ogden, for the most part Park City is considered where the festival happens.  You’ll find that you’ll be pretty insulated from the outside world during your stay.  Park City is a 30 – 40 minute drive from Salt Lake City. 

Getting Around

You can get a rental car, but to be honest you don’t really need one.  Most people attending a film festival in Park City take the numerous shuttles which go by all the film festival venues and probably somewhere near or in front of your condo or hotel room.  There are plenty of taxis you can call if you get stuck.  In fact, some taxi services only exist during Sundance, because they are used so much.  I'd only recommend a rental car if you're staying in the outlying areas of Park City such as Kimball Junction (near the I-80), or if your condo is somewhere in the mountains of Deer Valley, a popular ski resort in Park City.

Seeing Films

For queer film fans, Sundance is generally where the major queer films first get showcased and often discovered—films in the early nineties such as Poison, Swoon and later Boys Don't Cry first played at Sundance.  In 2004, there were close to 50 queer films at Sundance—that's almost 20% of the films programmed; let's face it, Sundance is a truly queer-friendly festival.  Slamdance, which is the next major film festival concurrent with Sundance, but much smaller in scope, screened ten queer features and shorts.

For the Sundance Film Festival, you have two options before the festival: 1) buying a festival pass, which will include either an unlimited or a limited amount of tickets—ranging from $200 to $2500; 2) going online or by phone to buy individual tickets when they go on sale in January.  Although Sundance is making the online and phone process smoother, the last couple years have seen numerous online crashes and days of busy signals because of the huge demand for tickets.  My advice is to buy the pass since the pass gets you into all the official Sundance venues.  To see the types of passes, check out sundance.org

If you don’t get tickets through any of these methods, then go to the box office in Park City early in the morning.  Sundance's website will announce when tickets will go onsale to the public.  The line will be about 300 people long and when they sell out of the tickets, you have to go to Plan B. 

Plan B (we’re not talking about the nightclub of the same name at the top of Park City's main drag Main Street) is going to the theater where the film you want to see is playing and getting in the wait list line hoping that Sundance will release more tickets.  After that, my advice is to wait outside the venue and ask people as they enter if they have an extra ticket.  People’s friends flake, so my experience has been someone always has an extra ticket.

What if you don’t get a ticket?  My advice is to go back to Main Street and hit the Slamdance Film Festival which plays during the same time in Park City.  Slamdance in its 11th year is kind of the farm-team film festival where many filmmakers get their films into before someday getting into Sundance.   Most of Slamdance's screenings take place at Treasure Mountain Inn at the top of Main Street.  Inevitably, there will be other film festivals in Park City during your stay.  In the past, little film festivals such as Slamdunk, No Dance, X Dance (for X-treme sport films), SchmoozeDance (Jewish film festival) have cropped up.  Their venues can be anywhere from the Park City mall to a synagogue to a little hotel room or the back of a truck where a film's being projected on a bed-sheet.  These film festivals come and go and you can support them if you wish.

Staying in Park City

Most people coming to the film festival will either rent condos, houses or hotel rooms.  I’ve stayed in condos every time which I’ve shared with multiple people.  We all split the cost.  I mostly spend my time at the festival and not in the condo, so it’s all good.

The closer you are to Main Street, Prospector Square or the Park City Resort, the easier it will be to get around without a car.  Some places might be slightly far such as Kimball Junction, but if the property has its own shuttle service in addition to the resort shuttle, you should be okay.  If not, rent a car for the 10 minute drive into Park City. 

The cost of housing is pretty expensive and they don’t discount.  In fact, housing prices rise during the 10 days of Sundance.  Houses expect to pay from $500 – $2,500/night; Condos $350 – $750/night, Hotel rooms $165 – $450/night.  Most will require a minimum of 5 nights stay.  The second week (Wednesday and on) of the festival is considered the easier week to get housing and the easier week to get into screenings.

While most properties don’t discount, the Queer Lounge has negotiated actual discounted rates through All Seasons Resorts, which has 8 different condo properties, is given Queer Lounge visitors special rates.  Click on this link (http://www.allseasonsresorts.us/qlounge.php) and mention Queer Lounge when you book your housing, and you will get the special rates.

Dining Out

Most of the classy dining spots in Park City start taking their reservations early (think November and December 2004).  These restaurants such as Zoom, Grappa, Riverhorse  Chimayo, Lakota and others fill up fast, and some want you to put a credit card deposit down on your group dinner in advance.  If you don't get your reservation then, good luck on waiting for a cancellation at the door.  You might be able to walk up and eat at the bar.  Places I like are 350 Main, Blind Dog Grill and Wahso.

Very good options for sit down places without reservations are Café Terigo and Renee’s Bar and Grill for vegetarian and vegan options.  Bangkok Thai, although often packed, has great food.

On Main Street and in Prospector Square there are some inexpensive options.  I’ve always like Burgies for lunch or dinner.  Main Street Pizza and Noodle and the Claimjumper Steak House are good options.  Also, off-the-beaten track and nowhere near Main Street is Mountain Chicken Café, serving inexpensive chicken dishes with corn bread.


Here’s a secret.  Because the majority of people in Park City are in town for the film festival, the ski lifts have the shortest lines of the winter season.  Also, up and down Main Street, there are time share places which if you go to their presentation; you can get free ski lift passes.  Park City Mountain Resort has a really good ski school which is where I learned to ski.  The Canyons is really good for snowboarders and is where I learned to snowboard.  Deer Valley is also a fantastic spot for skiing, but they do not allow snowboarders.


Art Galleries, clothing stores, gift shops abound on Main Street.  All are worth a look and most will ship back home for you.  For discount shoppers, at Kimball Junction, there is a factory outlet mall.  I am all for supporting these local businesses.

Gay Life

There is hardly any in Park City.  Don’t take that mean that Park City doesn’t like gay people.  In fact, I found out last year that they are very open-minded and pretty darn welcoming.  There are plenty of gay people that live in Park City, but they tend to be the type that will fly off to Provincetown, Fire Island or Palm Springs if they need a little sparkle in their lives.

When Sundance is in town, the Queer Lounge becomes the place to be and to find out about queer events.  This is where you will meet all sorts of people from around the country who are queer or queer-supportive (okay, that’s code for straight.)  You can find out about the queer films and filmmakers with films in the festival; check your email; relax; and get some snack.  And the great thing is it’s all free.  The Queer Lounge is your home base that you can come back over and over during the festival. 

On the first Sunday of Sundance, there is the Queer Brunch which is hosted by Planet Out and Outfest which is pretty much open to anyone and turns into the who's who of queer-cinema.  Traditionally, it's held at the Grub Steakhouse starting at 11am.  Get there early because the little food there is goes quickly. 


Getting into parties can be interesting at Sundance.  Every night there can be up dozens of different parties going on at once.  Writer Chris Parry (http://hollywoodbitchslap.com/feature.php?feature=944 ) has effectively broken down the parties at Sundance into three categories:

1) THE TINY, CHEAP FILM PROMOTION: Small films want attention too, so sometimes their publicists will put together low-budget parties that take place in a small room with a cash bar and a few plates of snacks. Anyone can usually get into these things, because the director is likely handing out flyers inviting people in the street out front.

2) THE BIGGER BASH: These parties are for larger films or film-related companies, usually combined with a couple of corporate sponsors, an open bar and a gift bag for you to take home featuring the sponsors’ products. These aren’t easy to get into, but they’re not real hard if you make the right friends and move in the right circles. When in doubt, line up, hope the party doesn’t take off, and wait for them to start letting in ‘filler’ people. That’d be you.

3) THE HOT TICKETS: The ‘high end of town’ parties are Sundance’s secret scene; the condo crushes, the distributor bashes, the magazine-sponsored mosh pits. These gargantuan affairs feature lush buffets, multiple open bars, a dance floor, a DJ, TV cameras, and a long line out front that you won’t get through quickly, even if your name IS on the list. To get into one of these things you either have to be someone special or know someone special. The reason why is that the guest list is a red carpet of A-list names, the gift bags are worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars, and the sponsors are forking out huge dinero to make it all happen.”

Other Advice

  • If you are like me, you will attend a ton of these parties collecting gift bags at each one.  There is a UPS store by the Albertsons in Prospector Square where you can ship all these items back home.
  • The Queer Lounge website, queerlounge.org, will be updated frequently during Sundance, so stop by and check out the site at the lounge for the latest news.
  • Taking the shuttles around town, you will meet a ton of people who can give you tips and gossip on what’s happening.   The great thing is everyone's pretty friendly and laid-back.
  • There is a state liquor store on Main Street; it’s a little bit hidden, but it’s there.  Utah has some funky liquor laws, but it’s nothing you can’t deal with it.
  • If you attend a ton of events, you might find yourself spending very little money on food with all the free eats being given out at the parties.  Last year, I spent only $100 on food over ten days.
  • Do not come to festival if you have no plans on seeing at least one movie.  The Sundance Film Festival is the reason why all this fun exists and we must support it to keep it going.  Consider becoming a donor to the Sundance Institute.
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