Everyone’s lives are filled with momentous occasions or times when everything just changed. Whether for the good or the bad, these are the defining moments that will be remembered for years and are crucial to shaping someone’s future. The 2019 Sundance Film Festival was a mountain of splendor in my life, and I don’t just say that because seeing the Rocky Mountains from the airplane brought tears to my eyes, but I mean, that week in Park City, is the best week of my life so far. It’s an indescribable experience which I still can’t believe even happened.
It all began on January 29th. After months of preparation, a few hundred dollars spent and countless hours of planning out a schedule, my roommate and I finally landed in Salt Lake City, Utah for the festival. We were to meet up with some friends my roommate had met online; One of which, is a Big Shot film reviewer on YouTube who was gracious enough to extend an invitation to both of us to come with him and his merry band of film fiends (whom I grew to love very much) on the frozen, brutal adventure that would be Sundance 2019.
Melodrama aside, in Utah is also when decided that I would start Everything’s Fine and I wanted to save lots of thoughts and experiences for a moment like this one. A moment where I would sit down and run by some of the “what’s” of Sundance. I made a survey, and by survey I mean I just asked a bunch of friends to give me questions they might ask or things they might want to know about my time in Park City.
1. What were the best and worst films at Sundance?
The obvious one, it’s what Sundance is all about. I ended up seeing around 30 movies at the festival and to cover them all here would simply be too much. I’ve decided I will dedicate a separate post entirely to talk about some of the films from the festival. I’d like to cover the best and perhaps the rest.
2. What was the food like?
Everyone really wants to know about what food is like in Park City… I couldn’t tell you, honestly. During the festival, I had devolved into a machine that ran on two hours of sleep, red bulls, granola bars and toaster strudels.
I did have some stellar chicken and waffles and some amazing Mexican food in Salt Lake City, but that was post-festival after I had recovered from sleep deprivation. During the actual festival though, I ate worse than I did in my four years of college. Thank the Lord high above for the Fresh Market, a renowned supermarket that serves as a centerpiece of the Park City theater circuit, it’s a safe haven among the festival goers and a cornucopia of hope, joy and excellent paninis. Whenever I had more than twenty or thirty minutes to spare between movies, I would usually try to rush in, snatch whatever convenient on-the-go snack was available and trudge on to my next screening.
Other days, I wasn’t nearly as lucky… One night in particular, I literally almost passed out from hunger in line because I had left my snack-filled backpack back at the apartment and hadn’t eaten anything since that morning. After not getting into the movie I was waitlisting, I sought out the nearest concession stand and inhaled a hot dog to regain some semblance of my humanity back.
3. What was the weather like?
Not counting the fake soap bubble snow we get in Florida, I had only seen snow once when I was a kid for about an hour or two. I had never seen snowfall or been in it for an extended time prior to this trip… and uh, it was cool. Literally.
It was freezing cold the entire time in Park City, the most cold I’ve ever been. I couldn’t be without gloves for more than a minute, exposed parts of my body went numb in seconds but snow itself was a real treat; at first. Seeing snow actually fall was a marvel at first until it would collect on my person and start melting and seeping through my clothes.
I slipped and fell, once. Threw a few snowballs, underestimated the depth of a slush puddle and most importantly, understood how much work goes into living in a place that gets constant snowfall for months at a time. Scraping snow off your car? No thanks. Shoveling snow? I will definitely pass. Layering clothes? Not too bad at first but after a few days, the hairs around my ankles started to hurt from wearing thermal pants and layers of socks. After a few days of being in nature’s meat freezer, I actually started to miss Florida’s sunny skies and oppressive humidity.
4. What was the culture like?
Sundance is legitimately a religious experience for film nerds; myself included. There’s an overwhelming sense of community and desire to talk about film. And while everyone approached it differently, mostly everyone is there to watch movies, discuss them and partake in what feels like a massively important piece of film history. I mean, Sundance itself is no joke, it’s arguably the biggest, most prestigious film festival in America and the energy that radiates through Park City during those ten days really shows that.
This shared wavelength among the people there seemed to also make everyone much nicer. I had numerous conversations with strangers on buses and in lines about the festival, the films, and what brought us to Sundance. Many were film students, others have worked on films being presented, and some were just in town to ski and decided to stop by and watch a movie or two.
5. What did you do for transportation?
Learning the bus routes, stops and venue locations is one of the single most important things to do in order to properly survive Sundance; Once that has been mastered, the rest is just a matter of scheduling and timing. Even then, I wanted to get as many movies in as possible so oftentimes, Lyft and Uber were my best friends. The rides themselves don’t even go for much since most of the theaters are within a few miles of each other. The tricky part is traffic and having to either schedule a ride ahead of time, or literally book one as your current movie is ending.
I missed the ending of Brittany Runs a Marathon– which, SPOILER ALERT: is the part when she runs a marathon, because I had to rush to my next screening, Monos. Fortunately, missing the titular marathon was worth it as Monos ended up being one of my favorite films of the entire festival.
6. What celebrities did you see?
I use the word celebrity very liberally here, because a lot of the “celebrities” I saw were directors of films at the festival or other films I was a fan of. However, there were more recognizable celebrities present as well.
After some of the screenings, if the director or stars from the film were present, they would host a Q&A and this is usually where I saw most of the “stars” or in the case of the smaller films, some up-and-coming stars perhaps.
I personally didn’t get to see bigger names like The Rock or Zac Effron, but I did see Tessa Thompson and Damien Chazelle at a few screenings since they were part of the jury for the dramatic competition. I also saw Shia Labeouf after “Honey Boy”, a film he wrote in rehab centered around the relationship with his father, in which he plays his father.
Being in the mixed company of stars, up and coming directors and other people within the film industry really grounded my perceptions of how attainable a dream of filmmaking is.
7. What were some of the best memories?
It’s hardly been three months since I went but those days I spent in Park City still linger in my mind. I made a lot of new friends and grew close to the group of lovely people I got to stay with. Aside from the films, getting to spend time with them after a long day or hustling and running around town from venue to venue was one of my favorite things about the whole experience.
Every night, we would gather in the common area, talk about whatever films we watched, talked about our schedules, about funny stories from that day and the whole interaction just served as a sort of epilogue to each day.
8. What was something unexpected you learned?
Being among such a mixed crowd, among film nerds, filmmakers, stars, etc. Really put the whole filmmaking process into a more realistic point of view. Even without attending any of the workshops available throughout the fest, I managed to gather a bit of insight of how important it is to network and make connections with like-minded people and how important it is to know that just because someone has similar goals or interests, it doesn’t mean that your work ethics or personalities will necessarily complement each other. It’s incredibly important to have a community that will challenge you in a healthy way while still providing support and understanding of your ideas.
Like anything else in life, there needs to be a drive and a passion to make things work out. Working in a creative field, it’s also important to find your own individual voice and to be true to what you feel is right. It sounds cliché but it really is all about attitude and confidence. Sometimes you just have to gas yourself up and believe in your own ideas and vision.
I also learned that sludge puddles of melting brown snow near roads are the absolute worst thing to step into.
9. What was the cost of the trip?
In total, I think I spent anywhere from $1,500 to $1,700 on everything. That includes the flight, the airbnb, the ticket package, food, Lyft, additional tickets and some other expenses. With a year’s worth of saving, it’s actually pretty reasonable. I used to think film festivals were incredibly expensive or like really exclusive and high class events but with the right planning ,execution and saving up, it’s really doable if you have the drive and desire to do it.
10. What tips would you offer to people who want to go?
- I would definitely say planning things out is KEY.
- Download the Sundance app, get familiar with the layout of Park City.
- If you got a ticket package, make sure you look out for the time to pick your movies and keep a schedule or things you want to see, if you got tickets and set levels of priority.
- Be prepared for this to change as reviews and reception come out and a movie you may have overlooked is getting rave reviews while your most anticipated may be a bomb.
- Waitlist the less popular options if you can, try your hardest to be early to every screening.
- Find an awesome group of people to go with, even if it’s just two or three of you.
- You can never have too many layers.
- Lyft and Uber will add up if they’re your only form of transportation so only use it if you really need to be somewhere in a hurry.
- Enjoy every minute and every second of everything you do in Park City.
I definitely, definitely wanna do Sundance again next year. I’m already planning and saving for it in fact. This year was a nice introduction to how the festival works and the do’s and don’t’s of attending. I genuinely hope it’s something I’ll be able to do regularly; maybe sometime in the future, if this blog takes off, I’ll be able to score press passes. This year, we only did the second half of the festival, depending on money and time, I may even be there for the entire duration of the festival next year.
If you have a passion for film, are looking to get into the industry, or just have the money to blow; I highly recommend trying to plan a trip to a major film festival if possible. Hell, even a local film festival.
Sundance 2019 was perhaps the greatest week of my life. Sure, the cold was a bitch, and sure I had to sacrifice a good night’s sleep and a full meal for most of the time there, but the benefits far outweigh the costs. Granted, I also went hard-mode and would usually try to hit 5-6 movies a day but even seeing 2-3 a day would make the money spent and time invested worth it.
Here’s to Sundance 2020.