Twenty-Two Fun Facts About Attending Sundance Film Festival

Photo: Judy Berna

After a whirlwind five days of hanging out in Park City with my son and taking in all we could of the Sundance Film Festival, I came away with a few observations. Just in case you’ve never had a chance to go yourself, here’s a little peek at what you might find there.

1. Mixed in with all the venues are many company sponsors. Some are just about getting their name out there, but many of them showcase their newest products and services. The Dell Den had the incredible VR demonstrations that had my son captivated for several hours.

Photo: Judy Berna

2. You will see people filming all over the place. You won’t know if they are from Entertainment Tonight or just a guy doing a project for film school. But get used to being an automatic “extra” in the background.

Photo: Judy Berna

3. You will try hard not to, but when you get home you will find you have a dozen (or more) pictures of the Egyptian Theater. It’s just so striking, by day and by night, that every time you walk by, you’ll take another shot. Don’t let it bother you, and don’t feel obligated to delete all the extras. Each shot will be unique.

Photo: Judy Berna

4. If you are like me, you won’t recognize a celebrity once they are walking past you “in the wild.” If you’re lucky, you’ll attend with your teenage son, who will excitedly whisper in your ear, “It’s Peter!” as Peter Dinklage walks down the sidewalk across the street.

Photo: Judy Berna

You will also start to realize just how much regular people have the potential to look like famous people. Actors have such a variety of looks these days, that you’ll find half the people who pass you have the potential to be someone in the industry. Almost all of them are not.

5. Don’t just concentrate on scanning the faces of the people who pass you, trying to spot those famous folks. If you take the time to look up, you’ll see all crazy banners all over town, with different words describing the festival. My favorites were “Love,” “Euphoria,” and “Smirking.”

Photo: Judy Berna

6. Park City is a city of culture, and that includes endless art and sculptures. From shops to public displays, keep that camera ready for cool artwork you’ll find along the way.

The Main Street Shuttle Station mural. Photo: Judy Berna

7. Don’t be upset about standing in line. The atmosphere at Sundance could be summed up in one word: networking. You never know who you’ll stand in line with. Everyone has a story. I met many interesting people and got many tips about navigating the festival from them. One afternoon I ended up chatting for an hour with a very friendly guy, having an intense discussion about the industry. The next day I attended a panel and realized he was the moderator and a pretty big deal. You never know.

Photo: Judy Berna

8. That being said, realize that a lot of the people around you are there to network. Everyone sticks out a hand and says, “Hi, I’m _____.” Greet their invitation with a firm handshake and introduce yourself. Appreciate the friendliness of just about everyone you’ll meet. It’s not a given in an event that draws over seventy thousand people a year. It’s a very special aspect of Sundance.

Photo: Judy Berna

9. There will be snow. Even if there are clear streets on the first few days, don’t be mistaken. Snow will come, and it will fill the sidewalks. Wear boots and be ready to share unclear pathways with many other people.

Photo: Judy Berna

10. Don’t forget to pop into the local stores. You’ll find unique, crazy merchandise. Granted, a lot of it was out of my price range, but it was still fun to be inspired by stuff I might not see in my town’s stores.

Photo: Judy Berna

11. Regular life still goes on. Even on crowded Main Street, deliveries were still being made, UPS guys were still hauling packages in their khakis.

Photo: Judy Berna

12. More than UPS trucks, you’ll see many vehicles with darkened windows. As you walk the streets, or stand in line outside (see #13), you will see dozens of cars and SUVs that have the potential to be hauling someone famous, or just somebody with money. The beauty of blackened windows is that you’ll never know. (I was SO sure Tom Hanks was in one of those cars that passed us…)

Photo: Judy Berna

13. Be ready to stand in line. For movies, for forums, for bathrooms. Incredibly I found that bathrooms didn’t have lines that often, but every movie or forum we attended, we minimally stood in line for an hour. The festival is great about having heated tents for many of the venues, but there are times, when activities were held in a building on Main Street, that we stood in line outside, in the snow. Again, turn to the person ahead of you, or behind you, stick out your hand and introduce yourself. Trust me, the time will pass before you know it.

Photo: Judy Berna

14. Be ready for anything. We were in the room when a young man’s life potentially changed in a big way. It was a forum about diversity in the industry, and during the Q/A a young Hispanic kid stood up and asked how he could compete with kids who happened to have dark eyes and hair, who competed with him in auditions calling for “Latino kid.” The actress/singer Ashley Judd was on the panel and her first answer was, “Be good at your craft.” But in the follow up answer, one of the other panelists said, “I am casting for a Latino teen right now. I’d like to talk to you after this is over and see what you’ve got.” Immediately an agent on the stage interjected, “And I’ll sponsor the deal.” I don’t know that kids name, but something tells me he got his big break that day.

Ashley Judd (left) gives advice to a young actor (in plaid, right). Photo: Judy Berna

15. Be ready to be cozy with fellow festival goers on the shuttle. The only smart choice is to take the shuttles between venues since there is little to no parking downtown. They are free, and each stop is manned by a volunteer who assists you in finding which shuttle to catch. Some stops even had outdoor portable heaters, which was lovely on the truly cold days. Some rides will be mostly empty. Some will be very cozy. Again, see #8. Make a new friend with the charming lady whose face happens to be very close to yours.

Photo: Judy Berna

16. Again (broken record), “be ready for anything.” One of my favorite moments at Sundance was attending a movie about Robin Williams and having the door to the venue held open for me by a guy who looked JUST LIKE the actor. With the exact right outfit (Mork’s parachute pants), I actually did a literal double take, then later grabbed a picture with him as he wandered through the lines. Just a hardcore fan, who happened to look like Mr. Williams, and took great pride in the fact.

My encounter with an “almost” Robin Williams—at the screening of the Robin Williams movie. Photo: Sam Berna

17. Back to #5, keep your eyes open. On the drive through Park City every day, we passed this awesome tree, that was covered in sneakers. Be ready for anything.

A tree of shoes. Photo: Judy Berna

18. Have the camera ready always. There are photo ops everywhere. You can’t take too many pictures at Sundance. You’ll love going through every one of them once you’re home and reminiscing about your experience.

Photo: Judy Berna

19. Don’t assume you know what your movie will be about. You can read the blurb all day long, but when that suddenly graphic scene hits the screen, remember this is art. Not porn. Art. Keep telling yourself that.

Photo: Judy Berna

20. Be ready for a rally to break out at any time. Besides the Women’s March, that happened on Saturday while we were there, this rally to call attention to abuses on Native American women formed in a small courtyard on Main Street. It was inspiring to watch and hear the soothing chanting of the Native American folks in attendance.

Native American Rally on Main Street. Photo: Judy Berna

21. Don’t be surprised that the only real fast food place in town, a small Burger King, is almost always empty. People come to Sundance to eat at fancy restaurants downtown. Only poor folks like me ate Whoppers for lunch.

Photo: Judy Berna

22. Although I still have not figured out the art of the selfie, everyone around you will be snapping them all day long. There are a lot of places at Sundance that are Instagram worthy, and even celebrities take the time to snap selfies. Embrace the trend.

Photo: Judy Berna

There’s your basic guide to the oddities of Sundance. In another post, I’ll spell out how to actually navigate the movies and forums of the festival. It’s (of course) not as easy as buying a ticket and showing up. There are tricks and tips we figured out along the way, and I’ll be sharing with you soon. It’s a crazy experience and definitely worth putting on your bucket list.