The annual Sundance Film Festival can be a love-it-or-hate-it event. Originally called the Utah/US Film Festival, Sundance first struck Park City in August of 1978 and was in part spearheaded by Robert Redford. Today, it’s one of the biggest events in Utah and draws film industry members and filmgoers from all over the world—well over 100,000 of them to be exact.
If you count yourself among the Sundance haters, my advice to you is simple: stock up and lay low—or, get out of town altogether. But if you’re a Sundance fan or Sundance-curious, there are many ways to experience the festival as a local that don’t involve dropping a couple grand on a pass and spending every waking moment of the fest with your eyes glued to a screen. I’ve rounded up 10 ways locals can get a taste of Sundance 2019 (January 24-February 3) without dropping everything.
1. Catch a screening during the second half of the festival
Sundance is not just one weekend. While most of the action does happen during the first few days (January 24-27), the fun continues for a full 10. Planning to go to a screening during the latter half of the festival means fewer crowds and shorter lines.
2. See a show outside of Park City
Another common Sundance myth is that it only takes place in Park City. While the Sundance HQ is, of course, Historic Main Street and the Egyptian Theatre, screenings are also held in Kimball Junction, Salt Lake City, and Sundance Resort as well. Attending screenings off Main Street means the same thing as Sundancing after the first weekend: fewer crowds, shorter lines.
3. Catch a matinee
Inevitably, matinees are less popular than evening and nighttime shows. Screenings start as early as 8:30am, meaning you can catch a riveting documentary while you sip your morning coffee, then spend the rest of the day skiing. While matinees are always less popular, keep in mind that during the first weekend, they will still sell out.
4. Get a Grand Theatre Pass
If your primary goal is purely to see a lot of high-quality premieres, I suggest springing for the Grand Theatre Pass. It’s only valid during Sundance weekends (Friday through Sunday) and for screenings held at the Grand Theatre in Salt Lake. However, you’ll beat the hubbub and get to see a lot of great movies. Make a staycation out of it and stay at the Grand America Hotel for the weekend so you’re not driving back and forth.
5. Be a Box Office opportunist
Don’t want to deal with the crazy online queues? Don’t really care what movie you see, but just want to catch a show? Head to the box office at 8 AM to see what’s available. Hours for the Park City box office are pictured above, but there are also box offices in Salt Lake City and at Sundance Resort itself.
6. Head to the Best of Fest (February 4)
If you’d like to see Sundance films, but don’t want to deal with the insanity, consider Best of Fest. This annual event is put on for locals only and, better yet, is totally free! The screening consists of a couple solid hours of award-winning films. This year, Best of Fest will take place on the Monday after Sundance (2/4) with showtimes at 6pm and 9pm in Park City, at Sundance Resort, and in Salt Lake. The catch: the only way to get in is to join an online waitlist two hours before the screening, so Best of Fest-goers must be agile.
7. Townie Tuesdays (January 29)
The other free screening opportunity for locals (Park City, only) is the Townie Tuesday. The screenings will air at 7pm at the Redstone Cinemas and at 9pm at the PC Library. Like the Best of Fest, tickets may only be procured via an online waitlist that doesn’t open up until two hours before the screening time. (Dear Sundance, is this really the only way??) Patience and dedication will pay off.
8. Head to the New Frontier
If you’re a technology fiend and an art hound, the New Frontier is for you. This annual exhibition showcases New Frontier Sundance residents, who are artists working with cutting-edge media and tech. You do need an actual pass to get in, however, so no specific tickets are available.
9. Partake in the Sundance Off Season
If all this talk of eWaitlists and crowds has you rethinking your interest in Sundance, consider Sundancing in the off season. The Sundance off season runs from February 4 until the first day of Sundance in 2020 (sometime in late-January!). What does it consist of? Screenings throughout the Wasatch Back and Front of Sundance movies at places like the Park City Library theatre and Red Butte Garden. All the great movies, none of the hustle.
10. People-watch on Main Street
If the hustle is what you’re looking for during Sundance, take the bus or a Lyft to Main Street (do not drive) on Friday or Saturday night of opening weekend. Dress warmly and wear waterproof boots with tread if it’s snowy out. Then, pace up and down Main Street, camera phone at the ready, observing the chaos. Who knows? You may spy Dennis from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia hanging out at the entrance to The Spur, or 1 of the 2 Dope Queens drinking a glass of red wine at a Main Street eatery. And if you happen to find a bar without a long line, pop in for a drink.