Paste Travel’s Guide to the Sundance Film Festival

Travel Features Sundance
Paste Travel’s Guide to the Sundance Film Festival

Filmmakers, actors and cinephiles alike will be descending into the snowcapped mountain town of Park City, Utah later this month for the 31st annual Sundance Film Festival.

Started as Salt Lake City’s Utah/US Film Festival in 1978, Sundance is now the country’s largest independent film festival and will screen 200 feature-length and short films from more than 120 countries in this year’s lineup. The festival runs from Jan. 21-31.

Writer-director Maggie Greenwald, whose film Sophie and the Rising Son will premiere at the festival later this month, described the event as amazing. “It gives you the mayhem of Hollywood and the craziness of buying films juxtaposed with incredible natural beauty,” she said.

The picturesque small town outside of Salt Lake City will be bustling when an estimated 50,000 moviegoers and filmmakers descend to see films from a broad range of categories from documentaries to foreign. And when not indulging in film screenings that go from early morning until late into the evening, there are plenty of restaurants, bars and parties to check out throughout the 10-day festival.

While the majority of screenings take place in small venues in Park City, a number of films will also screen in Salt Lake City, Ogden and Sundance Mountain Resort.

You don’t have to be a big star to attend; use our guide to get the best of this fest.

Getting Tickets

Spend some time studying the 2016 Sundance Film Festival schedule and decide what you want to see.

Once you figure out what films you can cram in, you’ll need to secure your tickets. Festival passes range from $300-$3,000 (special pricing is available for 18-24 year-olds and locals) and allow you access to the priority line. Depending on the package you get, this pass will get you into screenings at a certain time, in a certain venue, or—if you get the highest package—whenever and wherever you want. Some of the passes come with party tickets, as well.

If you don’t need all the bells and whistles but do plan on seeing a lot of films, the ticket packages might be better suited for you. This gives you a batch of tickets, and range in price (between $250 and $600) depending on how much access you want/which half of the fest you want to attend.

You can also purchase advance individual screening tickets for $20 each. Keep in mind that some films will be sold out and you might need to resort to same day individual ticket purchases; a limited number of tickets are released on the day of the screening—these tickets go on sale at 8 a.m. and require waiting in line in the cold—but it’s worth the wait.

New this year is an electronic waitlist that supplies last minute tickets.

Free Events at Sundance

Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty

During your downtime, there are film panels, concerts and media installations to keep you entertained. According to the Sundance schedule, events run daily at Festival venues such as the Filmmaker Lodge, Festival Co-op, the Sundance ASCAP Music Café, and New Frontier—all in Park City. All of these events are free and worth traveling for themselves. If you’re really looking to save, you could go to Sundance and skip the films, making the free events the main attraction.

Sundance Afterhours

When you’re ready to take a break from movie-going, enjoy cocktails and discussions at hosted parties with filmmakers and celebrities around Park City.

While parties and afterhours events are underway during the entire festival, many are invite only. However, there are a few you can crash; make sure to keep your eyes open for invites at restaurants, bars or screenings. You also might be able to get into sponsor parties—many of these happen during the festival at venues around Park City and the sponsors are vying for crowds. Finalized events will be released in the weeks leading up to the festival.

Don’t forget you’re at a higher altitude in Park City—you might want to consider consuming less alcohol and more water

Be sure to check out Chase Sapphire on Main in Park City. In addition to a recharge station in their lounge from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 22-29, they will be hosting various events ranging from Q&A sessions with actors and filmmakers to a Taste of Park City, when local restaurants prepare signature dishes sampling.
Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty

Transportation at the Festival

Sundance operates a free shuttle system in Park City that allows you to get between venues with ease. Some venues are within walking distance of each other; just make sure to dress for cold weather. If you’re flying in, car rentals are relatively inexpensive; a vehicle will come in handle for those planning on city-hopping.

Where to Eat

Park City is more than just the host of a star-filled festival. The tiny town’s restaurant scene is rapidly growing, but a few options will always be on our list of best bets.

Handle’s executive chef Briar Handly sources everything local, offering mostly organic and gluten free options. Don’t miss their signature Buffalo cauliflower or smoked hummus.

The trendy upscale Riverhorse On Main offers what they call “eclectic American cuisine.” They frequently host live music housed in the Masonic Hall on Main Street in Park City. They’re known for their seasonal dishes; try their Utah red trout or trio of wild game.

Where to Drink

The High West Distillery should not be missed if you like small batch whiskeys. The only “ski-in gastro distillery” also claims to be Utah’s first distillery since the 1870s. Spend some time in the adjoining saloon and enjoy their western-themed cuisine.

If you catch a 9 a.m. screening, check out Atticus Coffee, Books & Teahouse. Their coffee will keep you fueled while you give your eyes a rest and browse through a book or two.

Where to Ski

Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty

If you need to stretch your legs, grab your skis or snowboard and hit the slopes. Deer Valley Resort and Park City Mountain Resort offer escapes from the dark theaters via bright white slopes.

Where to Stay

If you’re looking for a luxurious and relaxing stay, look no further than the Waldorf Astoria Park City. The four-star luxury hotel boasts a pool and spa—perfect for post-ski refreshment. The lobby’s view of the mountains can’t be beat.

For a great value, check out Zermatt Utah. Located 18 miles out of town, Zermatt Utah is a quick ride into Park City and the lodge offers a free shuttle service. You can expect great rooms and equally great mountain views.

For a local experience, Airbnb has a number of listings throughout the cities where Sundance takes place.

Abra Cohen is a San Francisco-based based reporter who spends her free time eating, cycling and mastering the art of the single cup pour-over coffee.

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