The 1998 Sundance Film Festival

I've split my trip report into two halves - some background information, followed by a daily diary of my time there. Click below to jump to Part II.

Part I - Information

Part II - Trip Diary

Part I - Information

The Backstory

The following is taken from the Festival's presskit:

The Sundance Film Festival was founded in 1978 as the United States Film Festival, an annual cinematic exhibition founded in Salt Lake City Utah. During its early years, the Festival was focused primarily on the presentation of retrospective films and filmmaker seminars. However, from its inception, it featured a national competition aimed at drawing attention to the emerging melange of American films made outside the Hollywood system - a range of work that would come to be called "independent" cinema. The United States Film Festival moved to Park City, Utah, and grew to include documentaries and short films along with its slate of dramatic features.

In 1985, the Sundance Institute incorporated the Festival into its programming and added international films to the range of work exhibited. Officially renamed in 1991, the Sundance Film Festival has become recognized internationally as a showcase for the best in new independent film.

For more specific Festival information, you can:

What's it All About?

The Sundance Film Festival is an opportunity for Independent filmmakers to present their work in a forum where it can be appreciated, and if possible, distributed around the country and perhaps the world. Many films that received critical acclaim were first shown at Sundance, including such recent films as "Sling Blade" and "Shine". At the screenings, the producer, director (sometimes the same person), and sometimes the cast and/or crew, will appear after the end of the film to answer questions about the production. I personally witnessed distributors asking if the film was available, and if true, discussions started right then and there. I've heard that if the film's good enough, bidding wars can erupt over the rights to distribute the film. I'm told that a fist fight erupted over winning the rights to "Shine" when it was shown.

For those of us not directly related to the film industry, it gives them (OK, us) the right to see films waaaay before they're released, if ever. This year, just over 100 films were shown at Sundance, and probably 20-30 might receive some sort of distribution. That's a shame, because there's a lot of good stuff to be seen. If you don't want to read further, you can jump to my reviews of the films I saw by clicking HERE.

Fill-in-the Blank-Dance

Since Sundance has become the film festival to make yourself known, many filmmakers submit films for it. Unfortunately, not all films get accepted. What to do? Well, in 1995, two makers of rejected films banded together, and created the festival that is called Slamdance, which runs concurrently with Sundance out of one hotel on Main Street in Park City.. It's grown in scope over its few years of existence, and while much smaller in scope, it's at the point where it turns away film submissions, too. I've heard of other smaller film festivals that have emerged because their films were not accepted at either Sundance or Slamdance, and the ones I specifically heard about were SlumDance, Fandance, and Slamdunk. I'm sure there were many others that have come and gone, but anyway...

One of the smaller mini-festivals made national news when they held a free screening of Kurt and Courtney, which was removed from the Sundance screening schedule when Courtney Love filed a restraining order over rights to some of the music in the film. Most people there felt she didn't appreciate her portrayal in the film. The organizers of the Slumdance Festival tracked down Kurt and Courtney's filmmaker, and pulled a coup by showing the film as it was, but didn't get into trouble because they didn't charge admission to it.

I did attend three film screenings at SlumDance, and I enjoyed two of them and hated the third. I'll tell more about that in the second half of my report.

Attending the Festival

There are Four methods I know of:

Anyone can pre-register. There are a multitude of packages to choose from , from the $2500 All-movies-at-Eccles-Theater pass to some cheaper packages that include a pre-set number of films for all or half of the festival. These packages are supposed to allow you to choose your films before everyone else, but I didn't get one of these.

Registering for Sundance is simple - it is only handled by US Mail and other courier/overnight services. In an effort to be fair and balanced, they do NOT accept any of the more modern methods, like the telephone, FAX or via the Internet. The forms are mailed out by November 1, and you must return them ASAP. Everyone gets the same chance to register, supposedly. All I know is that I received mine a week late on a Friday,and I sent it in US Mail's Overnight service on the following Monday, and didn't get any of the three different packages I wanted. Ah, sour grapes are fun to bitch about, aren't they?

When I was informed that I didn't get any package, the rejection letter I received informed me that I could still attend, as some tickets are available all the way up until the actual screening. Several days before the Festival starts, they open up the phones to allow people to purchase tickets for all screenings, however, many films sell out rather quickly. I speculate that there are people to buy tickets to EVERY screening, and then determine what they'll actually see later. I was able to get a handful of tickets just a day before I left for the festival, so I at least had some plans in mind for when I arrived besides getting someone drunk and stealing whatever they had.

The Sundance Film Festival organizers really want to keep everyone happy. As a result, they do hold some tickets for purchase on the day of the festival, and they do limit the number of tickets that anyone can buy over the phone to 20 per call, 4 for any particular screening. Beyond that, at every screening of a film, they have a standby ticket line, and based on how many people show up with the pre-bought tickets, they let in from the standby line. Personally, I saw several films that way. I was also not above begging ticket holders for any additional tickets to some movies, including the premiere screening of "Montana", where I was successful. In that case, I ended up sitting right behind Kyra Sedgewick and her entourage, but not before almost asking them for any spares (I noticed it was her and her people, so I expected that they'd be using all theirs).

Getting There

It's fairly simple - go to Salt Lake City, hop into your rental car, and then drive east on Interstate 80. It's not that far, really, but considering that I heard Park City has shuttle busses, and airport-hotel shuttles were available, I opted to stay in Park City itself, and not rent a car. This proved to be both a benefit and a curse, but more of a benefit, to be sure. I ended up finding a direct flight fairly quickly, but I wasn't able to find a room for less than $200 a night. Since I went alone, that was a pain, but since I was determined to go, I pulled out the Visa, and quietly winced when I had to fork over $1100 for my 5 night stay. I probably could've found something cheaper, but it would have been far from the center of town.

I stayed at the SnowShoe Inn, a small place one block from the main Park City Ski resort. It was owned by the Inn at Prospector Square, and the back of the Inn had someone else's name on it, so I presume that it was recently bought out. It had no bar and (GASP!) no jacuzzi. It was more a place to sleep than anything else. It wasn't awful, but I guess I was hoping for better.

Park City and the Screening Rooms

If you're lucky to be staying somewhere in the middle of town, most everything in Park City is pretty much within walking distance. Getting around in Park City is simple - you could drive to where you wanted to go, but parking during the festival is extremely limited. It's really best if you take the Shuttle Busses, which circle the town quite frequently. There were times I had to wait for them, but it wasn't for very long. One time I seemed to miss all of the busses, and I ended up walking to one theater on the other side of town, but I wouldn't recommend that unless the weather was favorable. Walking has other advantages too - once, I was walking to the screening of We All Fall Down, and I was asked for directions to the theater I was going to, but I ended up got a ride out of that. Later I found out that it was the Director of the film, Davide Ferrario, and his wife!

Park City is a resort town, and considering the terrain, it doesn't need to be much more. It's surrounded by mountains, and there are two ski resorts covering several peaks. There's even a chairlift to the main Park City Ski resort that picks people up right from Main Street. I guess that's for the people not patient enough to wait for the shuttles. Main Street is the "center" of town. It's a straight uphill road, and was deceptively short but rather steep. Along it there are plenty of ski shops, tourist trinket shops and restaurants. Most of the stores I visited were pretty much had similar merchandise, including various paraphenalia regarding the 2002 Winter Olympics, which will be officially hosted in Salt Lake City, but I believe that many of the events will actually be around the Park City area. I did come across a rock store where I picked up a few polished stones. I forget it's name, but do look for it if that's your sort of thing.

Now that Sundance has been in existence for some time now, you'd probably expect that Park City would have some great theaters for all the screenings, but you'd be wrong. In the past, I've heard that the places to see films have been rather small - Festival organizers showed films in meeting halls and the smaller venues available. I don't know about past years, but this year, things have improved, and the Dorothy Eccles Theater, a modern, 1300 seat auditorium at the local High School. Aside from that, there's the Park City Library Center the Holiday Village Triplex Cinema, the Egyptian Theater (recently remodeled, with an Egyptian motif) and two screening rooms in hotels - the Yarrow and the Inn at Prospector Square. My favorite was the Egyptian, primarily because of the comfortable seats and its location on Main Street.


Go on to Part II - the Trip Diary

Go look at my photos from the trip

As Tracy would say, GO HOME!