posted on January 22nd, 2016

Sundance Film Festival gets into full swing today in Park City, Utah. It’s the annual event that locals love to hate, but secretly love (whatever keeps tourists off the slopes…). Buyers, producers, and techies roam Main Street taking in world premieres, free happy hours, loads of sponsor-provided swag, gifting suites, and the occasional panel.

If you don’t have top-notch credentials or aren’t a famous regular attendee (I’m looking at you Paul Rudd), consider this your insider’s guide to doing Sundance right.

Seeing the right movies

If you’re serious about seeing all there is to see at Sundance, get ready. It’s a convoluted process.

I recommend buying a ticket package, which you buy in the first of many lotteries. They usually come with credentials, which get you into a lot of the events (more on those later), and 10–20 tickets, which you can divvy up amongst your party or hoard if you’re a real buff.

Next, you choose your movies in a checkout free-for-all with multiple lottery-style rounds, each its own timed, panic-inducing exercise (akin to buying popular concert tickets on Ticketmaster and hitting refresh a million times).

To lighten the load, try categorizing your picks in advance into “must sees”, “would like to sees”, and “would only see because it’s so off the wall, it’ll never reach the mainstream”.  

Prioritizing them will help you decide whether to book your movie online in advance or use a pass (which is basically a blank ticket) to get on the waitlist for a movie, which you can only get onto once you’re at the festival. Every showing has at least a few extra saved seats, if not several, so there’s always a chance you’ll get in.

Finding the right parties

Starting at 5:00 pm MT, Main Street becomes a reveler’s enclave, and while your average festival-goer will struggle to get into the celebrity-exclusive Grey Goose Blue Door Lounge, you can still get into some fun (and free) parties.

For starters, follow the sponsors on Twitter and Facebook, religiously. They’ll be tweeting and posting on location every day and offering advance RSVPs to happy hours and lounges scattered throughout town. RSVP early. Get there on time. And you’ll be on the list.

If you’ve sprung for credentials, which grant access to all Sundance-operated venues, including the ASCAP music cafe and Sundance HQ, you can RSVP for a free, daily happy hour.


Getting around

Park City is packed, and you’ll need to get from theater to theater, so be smart about parking. There’s lots of free street parking and overflow lots, but it fills up fast. Once you find a spot, don’t move it until you’re ready to leave town.

Once you’re in, you’re in — take the shuttle everywhere. Free shuttles run all day and night, and there’s always an orange-clad volunteer that can help with the best route once you’re parked. Otherwise, Uber is out in full force every year, and you can always hail an Acura MDX, if not a helicopter.


Taking in the town

Sure, Sundance is a spectacle, but be sure to take in Park City for the winter wonderland it is. Some of the town’s many art galleries will be taken over by the festival. Those that don’t will be serving cider, while you peruse beautiful, high-priced works. It’s a good idea to make dinner reservations a few weeks in advance at any of the upscale eateries on Main Street (Chimayo and Yuki Yama come to mind), or keep it last minute and low key by heading to one of the more casual options like Squatters Roadhouse Grill or Wasatch Brew Pub. No Name Saloon is the classic local haunt for a night cap if the perennially-favored High West Distillery is closed for private events.


Wear winter boots. Don’t stare at celebrities. And if all else fails, you can always ski world-class slopes. Not a bad backup plan.