Skip To Content
  • Sundance badge

This Is What It's Like To Attend The Sundance Film Festival

The annual event, held in Park City, Utah, is basically a cineaste's dream come true.

The Sundance Film Festival, the celebration of independent films that has unfolded each year in snowy Park City, Utah, since 1978, is basically a cinephile's dream come true.

Jim Urquhart / Reuters

Here's the marquee of the Egyptian Theatre — located on the very steep Main Street, a hub for the festival action — on the first day of this year's festival. It's where some of the approximately 200 films at Sundance each year screen.

This is what Park City looks like before the people arrive and make it impossible to walk down Main Street.

As member of the press, you're given a press pass, which gets you into the Press & Industry screenings, and 10 tickets for public screenings.

Jim Urquhart / Reuters

Here's the Sundance Film Festival box office. These festivalgoers are probably trying to plan out their time at the fest. Part of that is luck and timing, as there are undoubtedly screenings that you want to see happening at the same time as others.

Even with the P&I and public screening tickets, you end up spending a huge chunk of each day waiting in line.

Jim Urquhart / Reuters

Like, nearly all the time you're not at a screening, you're waiting in line to get into a screening. People approach you constantly to see if you have extra tickets they can buy off of you. Or if they can charge their phone using your charger. Mostly though, you end up talking about movies with the people standing next to you because you'll likely be smushed up against them for at least an hour before the screening starts.

Much of the time, you're standing in heated tents.

Jace Lacob / BuzzFeed

Which means that the thick wool sweater that you put on to stave off the chilly Park City air is suddenly making you swelter. It's all about layers, people!

You see a lot of movies. A LOT.

Jim Urquhart / Reuters

I ended up seeing a mix of films over the course of five days, including the Nina Simone documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?; the kidnapping drama Stockholm, Pennsylvania; the sex comedy The Overnight; the even raunchier sex comedy Sleeping With Other People; the bromance drama The D Train; Kris Swanberg's utterly charming pregnancy drama Unexpected; the historical drama Stanford Prison Experiment; and the postapocalyptic drama Z for Zachariah. Some are fantastic and you hope that they get acquired for distribution so that other people can see them and love them as much as you did; others are so awful that you push them instantly out of your memory as soon as you leave the theater; and one made me feel like I was imprisoned and brainwashed.

At the public screenings, there are Q&As with the creative team and talent behind the movie.

There are also all sorts of interesting panels going on throughout Park City at the same time.

Sundance Film Festival / Via youtube.com

Here's Mindy Kaling and Lena Dunham on the Serious Ladies panel. It was part of the Power of Story series, which also featured Transparent creator Jill Soloway, filmmaking duo and Togetherness creators Mark and Jay Duplass, Parenthood creator Jason Katims, writer-actor Kristen Wiig, True Detective director/executive producer Cary Fukunaga, and Orange Is the New Black creator Jenji Kohan. They talked about a wide range of subjects, including #NewTV and harnessing creativity. At the Serious Ladies panel, which also included Wiig and Kohan, Dunham and Kaling asserted that they are most definitely not their characters.

There's also something called New Frontier, which is a series of interactive experiences.

Here are some members of the press using Oculus Rift wraparound headsets.

Jim Urquhart / Reuters

My colleague Louis Peitzman is on the left. When I did the Wild experience, I tried to grab the fox that saunters out of the forest and sits beside you on a tree stump. I took off my headset to discover a Reuters photographer standing over me. "What were you trying to touch?" he asked. I could not have been more embarrassed.

You will get lost. Often.

Jim Urquhart / Reuters

Public transportation is free and there are tons of shuttles, but the system is, at times, hellishly complicated. On our first night, a colleague and I ended up on a deserted country road and wound up scaling a steep hill in the pitch dark in order to reach our hotel. New frontiers, indeed.

It's not Sundance until you've seen a Duplass brother, James Franco, or Ethan Hawke.

Jim Urquhart / Reuters
Jim Urquhart/Reuters

Check and check.

Food is a precious thing.

Jace Lacob / BuzzFeed
Jace Lacob / BuzzFeed

I was lucky to snag an invitation for two to the opening night ChefDance, a five-night dinner party series that is invite-only and which features a four-course meal, cocktails, and lots of wine. The chef was from the Church Key in Los Angeles and he prepared a fantastic menu that you can see above. It was a respite from the granola bars or concession stand offerings that most of your meals end up being as you rush from screening to screening. And I did manage to grab lunch at the fantastic Yuki Yama Sushi one day. (For the record, that's a Bruce Lee Roy roll: spicy albacore, avocado, shishitos, topped with lightly seared wagyu beef, crispy shallots, green onion, black sea salt, and truffle garlic ponzu.)

You meet all sorts of interesting people (and animals).

Jim Urquhart / Reuters

Meet Pumpkin the owl. This becomes sort of the norm the longer you stay at Sundance.

And it was nothing compared to when I saw a man dressed as a yeti get a stern talking-to from Park City police officers one evening.

There's a whole side of Sundance that you likely won't even see while you're at the festival.

Jim Urquhart / Reuters

This includes huge musical acts, gifting suites, and an insane array of parties and premieres. It's impossible to do everything and you have to ditch your FOMO the second you land in Salt Lake City because there's just no way any human can do it all.

And then it's time to leave.

TV and Movies

Get all the best moments in pop culture & entertainment delivered to your inbox.

Newsletter signup form