The Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah provides the setting for The Sundance Revenge. The fest began in 1978 as the U.S. Film Festival in Salt Lake to offer an opportunity for American, especially Utah related, independent film to be recognized. Famous actor Robert Redford, became the festival’s inaugural chair giving the event instant credibility with the Hollywood crowd. In 1984, the fest changed its name to the Sundance Film Festival.
What began as a small event to showcase low-budget independent films soon exploded. Hollywood films, stars, producers., and money almost overnight expanded the event to a glamorous must-add to A-List actors and directors. Corporations saw an opportunity to market their wares through association with top line influencers. Now, almost 50,000 visitors converge on Park City at the end of every January.
I’ve attended the festival for many years for two reasons: first, many of the films are really good; and second, with everyone focused on the festival, the ski slopes are almost empty.
In The Sundance Revenge, I’ve tried to describe the festival atmosphere. In many ways, Main Street, the “main street” running through town, does resemble a carnival midway—piano players playing with their feet, near naked young people of all ages in body paint, feathers, and outlandish costumes totally oblivious to the winter weather, jugglers, street musicians, purple sax players (the instrument and the performer), catcalls from a second-floor hot tub, hucksters passing out fliers virtually every step. If you can dream it, you can see it on Main Street.
And then there are the celebrities. Main Street is barely two-lanes wide and very steep. The sidewalks on each side of the street are only wide enough to accommodate two people. Not surprisingly, crowds spill into the streets. When a celebrity walks by, the onlookers rush toward them like iron filings to a magnet, clogging traffic. The longer the celebrity remains on the street, the lower they are on the totem pole. Before selfies, it was way un-cool to approach a celebrity at a restaurant. After all, wasn’t everybody a fellow artist. But now with our social media “look at me” mentality, all bets are mostly off, and it’s quite common for a well-known actor to have his or her dinner interrupted by a long line of people with their cell phones ready to snap. Many restaurants in the area have developed special ingress and egress points for actors through kitchens and employee entrances to help with the problem. Also, you’ll almost never see a famous actor standing next to you at the urinals. They use employee bathrooms “in the back.”
The cost to see the films is high. You can try to get a festival pass entitling you to twenty tickets for over a thousand bucks. With the pass you can gain entrance to a cocktail party, panel discussions, and the awards ceremonies. To the festival’s credit, they’ve recently set up a way for you to use your phone to obtain wait-list tickets, and this works well.
For all of what some may call its flaws, the Sundance Film Festival is really cool. The energy of the people, especially the new (not necessarily young) filmmakers is contagious. The food is amazing. (The Blind Dog is my favorite). The No Name Saloon featured in the upcoming book is great for a buffalo burger and an absolute lack of pretense.
The festival’s a great addition to the entertainment world that only looks to get stronger each year. And for the most part everyone behaves.