film festival tourism


The Sundance Film Festival

Park City During the Festival

Why Go: For the best of recent American independent cinema screened in a picturesque ski resort town.


Dates: Ten days at the end of January.

Programming: If there is such a thing as a Sundance film, it’s a naturalistic portrait of an obscure, impoverished American subculture (Winter’s Bone, Frozen River, Precious, all recent prizewinners). But a wide array of American indie films are represented here, with a generous selection of comedies always included.  An assortment of recent foreign titles are also featured.

History: Sundance began in 1978. Since then, Robert Redford has acted as its eminence grise and remains actively involved in policy and programming. In 1981 the event moved from Salt Lake City in late summer to Park City in the midst of ski season. When long-time fest topper Geoff Gilmore headed over to TriBeCa in 2009,  John Cooper took the reins, vowing to renew the event’s focus on less commercial fare. His first festival carried out this pledge, featuring a category called “Next” for micro-budgeted films. In recent years, the fest has sought to expand its brand by hosting mini-festivals in other locales, opening theaters around the country and distributing films over the internet.

John Cooper

Tickets: As the festival grows ever more popular, getting tickets is becoming increasingly difficult. Best advice: spring for an expensive pass or ticket package if you can afford it. Individual tickets are only $15, but are rarely available in advance. If you decide to wait until you get there, be prepared to get in line before 7am to purchase day-of-screening tickets. DO NOT attempt to go to scheduled screenings without a ticket and get into waitlist cues unless you enjoy standing in line for 2+ hours only to be turned away at last.

Program Notes: The program book is not lavishly produced, but the descriptions are informed and literate. All are signed.

Venues: Mostly makeshift, from high school auditoriums to legitimate theaters. For the most part, they are comfortable enough, though sight lines are often obscured.

The Egyptian Theater during the Festival

Getting There: Park City is about an hour’s drive from the Salt Lake City airport. There is a regular shuttle.

Getting Around: Venues are not all within easy walking distance from one another but local buses are free and frequent. An added bonus of the buses is that passengers chat about movies—often offering impressive information and insights. A car is not a good idea, since parking is difficult. Taxis are plentiful, but you have to call for them.


A scenic upscale community nestled among the Rocky Mountains, Park City is about an hour’s drive from Salt Lake City. A shuttle will take you there from the SLC airport.

Park City

Park City


Many and varied. Below are a few I’ve enjoyed that are convenient to the theaters . As you can guess, reservations are a must and should be made long in advance.

  • Wahso. This Asian-fusion place owned by Park City restaurant mogul Bill White is  near the Egyptian Theater. Elegant and expensive. 577 Main Street, 435-615-0300.


  • Chez Betty. A bit out of the way, but the food is superior. 1637 SHORT LINE DR. PARK CITY, UT 84060 PHONE: 435-649-8181

Chez Betty

  • The Tree Room. At the Sundance Resort. A bit of a drive and it’s hard to get reservations, but the effort is well worth it. The room’s rustic, low-key atmosphere of quiet elegance sets the stage for simple but immaculately prepared meals. Prices are high but not stratospheric.

The Tree Room

More Practical Info:



2008 Festival Program Book

Best Film I Saw: In Bruges. A medieval city inspires a medieval world view in Irish playwright Martin McDonagh’s irreverent, in-your-face debut film.

In Bruges


2009 Program Book

2009 Program Book

Best Film I Saw: Sin Nombre. El Norte meets City of God in this edge-of-your-seat Spanish-language thriller from first-time Japanese-American filmmaker  Cary Fukunaga. Adriano Goldman’s crisp, vivid cinematography enlivens a grim tale of poverty and criminality south of the border.

Sin Nombre

Unexpected Pleasures

  • Newcomer Gabby Sidebe’s winning turn in Push (subsequently retitled Precious) as an overweight, underprivileged Harlem teen who has seen a world of trouble but has manufactured a rich fantasy life to escape it. In her world she gets to play the star rather than the victim. Lee Daniels’s film won both the jury prize and the audience award.

Precious (a.k.a. Push)

  • Sebastian Silva’s affectionate portrait of tangled class relations in an upper-class Chilean household in his prize-winning The Maid.

The Maid


2010 Program Book

Best Film I Saw. Winter’s Bone. Debra Granik’s stark portrait of a young woman’s desperate struggle to keep her family together is set in the harsh landscapes of the Ozark mountains. Won the fest’s top prize.

Winter's Bone


2011 Program Book

Best Film I Saw: Happy, Happy. Anne Sewitsky’s quirky examination of the travails of intimacy unfolds amid the snowy landscapes of rural Norway. Won the World Dramatic Competition.

Happy Happy


2012 poster

Best Film I Saw: Violetta Went to Heaven (Violeta se fue a los cielos). Andres Wood’s assured and daringly structured subjective biopic about a remarkable Chilean folklorist.

Violetta Went to Heaven

Unexpected Pleasures

  • Catching sight of Chicago’s mayor Rahm Emmanuel coming out of a screening of Chasing Ice, a documentary about global warming.

Chasing Ice

  • The efficiency and cordiality of the many festival volunteers.

A group of Festival Volunteers

Shock and Awe: Long, LONG waits in lines that seemingly extended into infinity.

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