Park City, baby!
The Sundance Film Festival took place in Park City, Utah, at the end of January 2019, and the movies featured are just now beginning to see the light of day for all of us regular folks (aka plebeians) not in the film industry, whether it be by a release date being announced for later this year (Mindy Kaling’s Late Night, for example) or by having already infiltrated our homes via HBO and sent us into an emotional well of horribleness (Leaving Neverland is what I am referring to).
This is Hollywood, baby (okay, fine, geographically speaking it was technically Park City, baby, but you get it).
The Sundance Film Festival is certainly alluring. When one hears “Sundance,” they probably think, “Ah, prestigious film and winter elegance–a gorgeous package.” And they would be right–it definitely is that. However, to a first-time festival goer (and especially one not in the film industry), the Sundance Film Festival can also be slightly intimidating. There is, understandably, a bit of a caste system happening here. After all, this is Hollywood, baby (okay, fine, geographically speaking it was technically Park City, baby, but you get it). Obviously, the top tier of Sundance are the people who actually make the films (celebrities, filmmakers). After that, it’s executives, shareholders, then probably entertainment media and influencers, followed by many more groups of people, and at the very bottom you have: travel writer (me).
The Pleb: Defined
I had to face the facts: I was a Sundance pleb–a non-film person, non-influencer, non-executive, non, non, non. But, also: Man, what the heck is wrong with that? Nothing, actually. And even though security guards outside of most places I attempted to enter continuously asked me, “Why are you here?” over and over (so much so that I honestly began to wonder myself), I stood up to them (and to my own imposter syndrome) and said, “Because I am supposed to be.” (Okay, fine, I also had to give them my name and then they had to call a person, who told them it was okay to let me in, etc., but look, getting inside of anywhere was a WHOLE thing).
Recommended Fodor’s Video
An important thing to know is that you, too, have the opportunity to be a pleb in the Sundance world, and can do it: through a bank. Chase Sapphire cardmembers have special access to exclusive events every year at the festival, getting you into parties, priority box office lines, and special lounge. So, if you are also not an industry person but really want to visit Sundance, you absolutely should do it–and here are some things to remember, from one pleb to another.
The Pleb Transports Herself From Place to Place
There is no public parking at festival theaters in Park City–you’ll get towed immediately. There are park-and-rides and paid parking, but if you’re visiting from out of town, the best way to get around is via rideshare services. There are also free shuttles from resorts–but you’ll definitely wind up walking a bit further (and it is cold).
That said, there are specific sections for rideshare drop-offs, and everyone is always trying to get a Lyft at all times–so, even with this option, you’ll be hanging out in the cold for a little bit, regardless.
That said–dress accordingly. As a Los Angeles person who does not own a coat, I recommend having an actual coat. For the love of god, purchase a coat before going to Park City in January if you plan on being outside for over 25 seconds at a time. My devil-may-care (aka “very lazy”) plan of “layering every jacket and sweater I own on my body at all times” was fine but became annoying pretty quick–imagine handing 6 sweaters to a coat check attendant and all of them falling on the ground at different parts of your 12-second interaction. It’s fine, I guess–but there are better ways. And also you kind of look like a tall sock walking upright in all those sweaters, man.
The Pleb Finds a Hangout
If you are a pleb and you find yourself at Sundance, you will soon realize that you are not allowed inside of a lot of places because they are private parties or exclusive to certain groups of people attending the event for a specific film. I learned this when I tried to enter the Pizza Hut Lounge–which caught my eye immediately, obviously. It’s only natural for one to become transfixed when happening upon a situation where the words “Pizza Hut” and “Lounge” are combined into one actual place. Of course you want to go in there! I sure did. I couldn’t though–a private party was happening. Later, I would see photos of Mindy Kaling and Zach Galifianakis hanging out in the Pizza Hut Lounge, eating pizza and laughing–just like I wanted to do, but unfortunately, could not, at that time. Once again, I was reminded that I am not a celebrity (annoying).
Don’t worry, though–you can find a place to hang out. These lounges, located on Main Street and typically corporate sponsored, are fancy and fun–and good news, they’re not always closed off to the public. At many times during the day, anybody can go inside and hang out. For example, Chase Sapphire on Main (Chase’s swanky, dimly-lit lounge) was open to the public for most of the day and allowed anyone to enjoy refreshments and panel discussions. It was also a place of solace for me, as it was a welcoming atmosphere to just chill out in.
Chase Sapphire on Main played host to many events, the most insightful and inspiring of which were Q&A panels with filmmakers and actors. During one panel held the basement of the Chase house, the writer, director, and stars of the film Paradise Hills invited a high school student onstage after she asked for advice on finding success in the film industry as a writer. Mila Jovovich then gave her a hug and told her, “If you’re going to be a writer, you have to write that story that resonates with you. No matter how crazy you think it is, and maybe you’re like, ‘No one is going to relate to this,’ [just remember that] if you’re honest, you’re going to find an audience.”
This particular lounge was also lovely on the outside, as it was flanked by a mural created by artist Timothy Goodman (who creates a bunch of heartfelt, meaningful work for a lot of different outlets), and includes words and images meant to depict various elements of Park City and Sundance. It’s always nice to see a brand™ partnering with cool, genuine artists, and Goodman’s work sends sincere messages of honesty and openness that were honestly refreshing to experience.
The Pleb Sees Some Celebrities
This probably won’t come as a surprise, but there are a lot of celebrities at Sundance. In fact, the original version of this article was entitled, “Will I Find Love With Jon Hamm at Sundance?” but the short answer (and actually the entire article) is this: No. However, I did see Jon Hamm speak after a screening of his movie, The Report, and he made a joke that was so good that I am going to go ahead and give him the award for “Best Joke at Sundance”.
Celebrity sightings are everywhere at Sundance! You’ll find celebrities at panel discussions, movie screenings, randomly on the street as you ride by in your Lyft, etc. Celebrities: They’re just like us. That said, be cool, man. Don’t do anything weird.
The Pleb Attends a Saturday Night Cast Party
This also will not come as a surprise, but another place where you will most likely see celebrities (or as I like to call them, “special unicorns”) are at the cast parties for the movies that they are promoting. Usually, they are in the VIP section (where you are not allowed–unless you have a Chase Sapphire card), so you must view them from a respectable distance.
INSIDER TIPDo not stare at celebrities or even regular people. It’s not polite.
I found myself at several cast parties. The first one was held on a Saturday night, and it was open to the public. After no one knew who I was at the door and I nearly wasn’t let in at all, I understandably felt a bit out of place at first, as I stood in the corner sipping a tequila and soda. With a little liquid courage (not encouraging this–I just did what I had to do), I stepped away from the wall and found out that most of the people in attendance were ALSO non-celebrities and non-entertainment-media people–they just lived in the area and came by to see what’s up. The atmosphere was jovial, the DJs were great, and pretty soon everybody was dancing to Blink 182.
INSIDER TIPIf you want to hang out in the super exclusive Cardmember Lounge, this probably goes without saying but: You have to be a Chase Sapphire cardmember. It looked cool–Jon Hamm was in there! I was not.
The Pleb Eats Some Food
A really great thing about Park City is that it has a mixture of lavish restaurants and super chill places with the word “saloon” in the title (that are also pretty lavish–but in a subtle way). Several gems are hidden within the mountainous terrain of the former Wild West mining town-turned-fancy-and-popular-tourist-destination–many of which are featured on the “Sapphire Six” Travel Guide to Park City, Chase’s trusty guide to the best restaurants around. I ordered a whiskey flight at High West Distillery Saloon and ate a menu item called “Chip + Dip”, which was actually the best thing I have ever eaten despite sounding like the single simplest thing to ever be on a menu at a restaurant–sea salt and malt vinegar chips with a dip made of onion, bacon, and American Prairie (whiskey in an onion dip–chef’s kiss).
INSIDER TIPYou are allowed in the restaurants in Park City even if you are not a celebrity.
Boneyard Saloon is a welcoming beacon of light located right next door to a popular (and very typical) night club. Honestly, I’m not sure why anyone would even want to go into a nightclub let alone wait in line for one ESPECIALLY when this gem was immediately next door. It’s a wonderful dive escape, if, say, you’ve been around a lot of lavish Sundance events that day and just want to hang out somewhere super comfortable and not pretentious (while also still being extremely nice!).
The Pleb Can’t Go Anywhere Because Everything Is Closed Off, Currently
If all else fails, and you find yourself with nothing to do momentarily because, perhaps, all of the lounges are holding private parties, or you’ve just got a few hours to kill, Main Street is the place to hang out while you wait. There are plenty of coffee shops, big stores, local small businesses, and eateries to keep you busy.
The local shops range from upscale beauty stores to regular gift shops that sell Utah-related items to kitschy shops with odd items for sale that, frankly, you won’t find anywhere else. Where else am I going to find tealights shaped as the killer from the Scream movies without doing a very specific internet search and receiving them in 4-6 weeks while paying a whopping $12.95 for shipping? The answer is nowhere.
The Pleb Sees Some Movies
In case you forgot, and sometimes I did, the heart and soul of this festival are the movies it’s featuring, and you are absolutely allowed to purchase tickets for said movies even if you are a regular person who does not make movies for a living. Also, if you’re a Utah local, you can usually purchase tickets a few days before out-of-towners. Tickets are open to the public until they sell out and they’re usually about $25. You can pick them up at one of several festival box offices.
INSIDER TIPStick around after the movies–there are usually a few special guests (directors, actors).
The Pleb Enjoys the Scenery
At the end of the day, even if you’re not a celebrity and can’t get into every event–you’re still in Park City, and Park City in January is an eerily magical winter wonderland, where even the trees are dressed up.
The holidays are over–the trees are just like this. And with trees like this, you don’t need the celebrity treatment. My concluding advice is just to know what you’re getting into before going to Sundance (and, hey, consider getting a credit card for perks if this is a thing you can do in your life) and lean in to being a film pleb.