Christine Grenney’s Sundance Film Festival Survival Guide
Over the next 10 days, Park City will be front and center on news channels around the globe as the Sundance Film Festival descends here, in Salt Lake, Ogden and at Sundance Resort. The PR value and exposure to future visitors and residents from across the country and around the world is priceless, and the annual $70-million boost to Utah’s economy is a benefit enjoyed statewide. But with more than 50,000 people attending screenings at Sundance’s four locations – not to mention all of the industry and product marketing folks on-hand to promote their films and hand out swag – local roads get snarled in stand-still traffic and frustration can run rampant. The best way to avoid road rage, and to enjoy Sundance, is to plan ahead, leave yourself plenty of time, and be patient.
Sundance Film Festival Survival Guide
With only two ways to enter and exit Park City, peak times can turn State Roads 224 and 248 into parking lots. Avoiding SR 248 (aka Kearns Blvd) before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m. is a good idea since many people who work in Park City but live in Heber take this mostly two-lane route in and out of town each day. SR 224 from town toward Kimball Junction gets hairy starting in late afternoon throughout the winter when ski-area traffic begins. But during Sundance, traffic into town from Kimball Junction is also congested starting in late afternoon as movie goers arrive for evening screenings. Once you get into town, parking is nearly impossible, so it’s best to park and ride, taking advantage of Park City’s expansive free transit system.
During the winter, buses run daily in town from 6:10 a.m. until 2:10 a.m., to Kimball Junction from 5:40 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., and to Park City’s outlying communities from 7:40 a.m. – 10:40 p.m. Visit the Park City Transit Bus site here for downloadable transit maps and timetables. Check out the Real-Time AVL Bus Tracker, which lets you see whether the bus will leave on time by providing both scheduled departure times and estimated departure times. Another cool tool is the Google Transit Trip Planner, which can tell you which bus to take and how long it will take to get to your destination. You can even talk to a human by calling 435-615-5301 weekdays from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., or listen to recorded schedule information available 24 hours a day at 435-615-5350.
Walking around Park City
Getting around on foot is another great option, especially this year, since (sadly) no snow is in the forecast for the next 10 days. Walking from Main Street to the Library Theatre is an easy, 10-minute task. Getting from Main Street to Prospector or Eccles theatres will take less than 30 minutes. The reverse routes are a bit more strenuous, but manageable in good boots and a hat for nighttime dips in temperature.
Dining out in Park City
Once you’re in town, finding a place to eat that isn’t booked for a private party can be challenging. If you are set on dining on Main Street, think like an early bird and get there early unless you’ve made a reservation. If you’re a local (and can prove it), Uptown Fare at 227 Main Street employed a bouncer last year during Sundance to ensure only locals made it in for their famous soups and turkey sandwich, but don’t discount the outlying neighborhoods to grab a bite.
With less expensive options like the always excellent El Chubasco within walking distance of most theaters, it’s easy and affordable, as are Fuego Bistro, Grub Steak and Prime Steak Sushi Bar. Visit Blind Dog Restaurant and Sushi Bar on Kearns (approx. one mile from Eccles Theatre) for fresh seafood and sushi, or walk a bit further up the street to The Market for daily specials, Wasatch Bagel & Grill for monster burgers, Nick’s Greek Café for a traditional gyro (or not-so-traditional JapaDawg) or Teriyaki Grill for affordable rice bowls.
Via car, Powder at Waldorf Astoria Park City accepts reservations via OpenTable.com, while a few new fast food options have opened in the past year at Kimball Junction, including the coronary-inducing Five Guys Burgers and relatively healthy Café Zupas.
Getting Sundance tickets for locals
If you’re looking to do more than eat and people watch, there are a few ways for non-ticket holders to see some films during Sundance’s official run, and in the few days after. Any available tickets for a day’s screening will be available starting at 8 a.m. at the Main Box Office (in the Gateway Building in Old Town at the corner of Heber and Swede Alley).
There is also a waitlist option at each theater, which means that once all of the festival pass and ticket holders have entered the theater, festival staff goes back in and counts the number of vacant seats. That number determines how many people will get in from the waitlist line. The tried-and-true waitlist procedure many festival goers finally came to understand at each of the theaters has been replaced with an electronic waitlist system.
The new system provides check in using your mobile phone, computer, or one of the festival’s self-serve kiosks. The festival is promoting it as doing away with the two-hour outdoor wait, which never provided any real guarantee of getting into the film, and the new system provides a likelihood of getting into the event. To learn more about it, click here to take the tutorial.
Finally, screenings for locals include Townie Tuesday during the festival, and Best of Fest on Monday, January 26. Tickets for both of these events are always distributed on the Saturday before the festival begins, but the opportunity to waitlist exists, and most folks who waitlist for Best of Fest get in this way, since folks holding Best of Fest tickets have sometimes seen one of the two films screening that night, and end up being no-shows.
So relax, avoid driving, if possible, and take a deep breath. It’s only 10 days a year, but the benefits to our town and surrounding areas are immeasurable.