Festival First-Timers Guide

Festival First-Timers Guide

Never Been To Sundance? Festival First Timers Guide
By Christopher Ryan

Lay of the Land

Sundance takes place in Park City, Utah from January 15 – January 21, 2009. The nearest airport is in Salt Lake City, Utah and it's a $50 cab ride or $35 shared shuttle ride to Park City. Ground transportation to Park City can be easily arranged when you arrive at the SLC airport, but if you go online; you can pre-book your ground transportation at a discount.

While some 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 the Salt Lake City airport on I-80.

Getting Around

Try to avoid the temptation to get a rental car. You don't need it. Parking is a real pain in the ass in Park City.  Most people attending a film festival in Park City take the numerous free city shuttles which go by all the film festival venues and probably somewhere near or in front of your condo or hotel room. They run till the early hours of the morning.

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), The Canyons resort, or if your condo is somewhere in the mountains of upper 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. Slamdance, is the next major film festival running concurrently with Sundance but much smaller in scope.

For Sundance, 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. As with last year, you will have to pre-register for a call in time for online/phone tickets at the festival website.

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. You have to pre-register for a call in time for passes. As of December, most of the passes are already sold out.

If you have a friend that lives in Salt Lake City, local residents get access to tickets and special locals passes a few days before the official on-sale dates.

If you don't get tickets through any of these methods, then go to the box office at the Gateway Center in Park City early in the morning each day of the festival. 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 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. You pretty much have to enter the line just after the previous screening line, so expect to wait 2 -3 hours in these lines for 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, especially at the early 8 or 9am screenings, 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 other film festivals playing during the same time in Park City.

Slamdance in its 14th 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.

Smaller film festivals such as Roaddance (a free outdoor film festival of silent films projected from a truck),  TromaDance, X-Dance (for X-treme sport films), Park City Film Music Festival and Schmooze Dance (Jewish film festival)  hold screenings. 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. Generally, they are very easy to get tickets to these screenings.

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 or the Canyons, but if the property has its own shuttle service in addition to the film festival shuttles, you should be okay.

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 – $3,500/night; Condos $350 – $1000/night, Hotel rooms $165 – $450/night. Most will require a minimum of 5 nights stay.

Dining Out

of my favorites:

Gliterind at the Stein Erickson Lodge: (435-645-6455) – The Stein Erickson is the top hotel in Deer Valley. This restaurant is fantastic. Try the Duck Three Ways. $$$

Zoom – 660 Main Street (435-649-9108) – Robert Redford owns this restaurant and it is the location for many parties during Sundance. Try the Grilled Chicken Breast sandwich with roasted red peppers and melted Harvarti cheese and smoked tomato aioli. $$$

The Eating Establishment – 317 Main Street (435-649-8284) – Casual dining with great breakfasts at the oldest restaurant in Park City. There is a second location at the Park City Mountain Resort. $$

Taste of Saigon – 580 Main Street (435-647-0688) – Great, inexpensive Vietnamese food hidden in a tiny mall on the second floor. Yummy pho that's perfect for winter weather. $

The Stew Pot – 1375 Deer Valley Drive (435-645-7839) One of the best-known local secrets, the Stew Pot located in the Deer Valley Plaza in the Snow Park area features quaint lunches, homemade soups and stews, sandwiches and salads.

Eating Healthy? — Wild Oats. 1748 W. Redstone Center Drive. (435-575-0200)  Newly built, this is the best place to buy healthy groceries. It's a bit out there, near Kimball Junction on the way to the 1-80 freeway, but worth the travel time.

Don't have a lot of money to spend on food?  Your condo will have a full kitchen and you can go to the Wild Oats in Kimball Junction or Albertsons in Prospector square to purchase food. If you attend a bunch of parties, you can survive off chicken satay and won tons.


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. The Canyons is really good for snowboarders and is where I learned to snowboard. Deer Valley is also a fantastic spot for skiing with groomed slopes, 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 none 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. Located this year at 608 Main Street, Queer Lounge is where you will meet all sorts of people from around the country who are queer or queer-supportive (that's code for straight as the lounge is open to everyone.) You can find out about the queer films and filmmakers with films in the festival; check your email; relax; and get some snacks. And the great thing is that this event is free thanks to the corporate sponsors.

At night, the Queer Lounge will host private parties. There might be open happy hours with free cocktails. Pick up the Queer Lounge guide for a list of events. The Queer Lounge is your home base that you can come back over and over during the festival.


Getting into parties can be interesting at Sundance. Every night there can be dozens of different parties going on at once.

The parties can be pretty low key or be huge corporate-paid-for events with tons of celebrities. Most of these parties will have an open bar and give out very nice swag bags filled with products. The parties will be held at venues such as Queer Lounge, House of Hype, Sundance Film Festival Village , and Harry Os. Most of these parties are closed to the public and by invite only.

The key to getting into these parties is meeting people. You never know who might be able to get you into an event. Be nice to everyone, and it will pay off.

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. They will box up all your swag up and ship it home.
  • Take your vitamins – every year at the festival, some type of flu goes around. The best defense is a good offense. Consider picking up Airborne and take a day before the festival.
  • 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. Oh, the beer sold at the supermarkets is 3.5% beer – that means extremely weak. Beer bought at the liquor store is full strength.
  • 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 unless you plan to see at least one movie.

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