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15 Tips for Navigating the Sundance Film Festival 2018

This upcoming January will mark my 9th year of incredible moving watching at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. My husband and his best friend started going while they were still in university. Once I arrived on the scene I was welcomed to the annual pilgrimage as a fellow film lover. They were pros by then and knew the cheap and sneaky ways to navigate the festival. Many years later we’re now a much larger group of friends and family who come together every chilly January to celebrate the joy of movies.
sundance film festival 2017
Over the years we’ve seen star-studded blockbusters and watched new filmmakers cry after their first movie screening, we’ve seen documentaries on topics from immigration and gun control to video game creation and Vogue magazine, and what might be enough experimental animated shorts to fill a lifetime.

If you’re making the trip this January 18th-28th, here are my 15 tips for making the most of the Sundance Film Festival.

1. Don’t buy tickets online in advance

First off, the process sucks. Secondly, by booking yourself early you’ll end up missing some incredible gems that might not have had as much press.

We like to head to the ticket office super early in the morning of our first day and read the brochure while we’re in line. When it’s our turn to buy, we pick movies based on ticket availability and our schedule. We end up with an eclectic mix which is absolutely the point!

2. Plan for travel time

Our goal is to see 3-4 movies per day while we’re there. (Usually 3 full movie watching days.) That schedule means we need to get up early and go to bed late. We leave plenty of time between movies to get to and from each theater location and try to factor in some meals while we’re at it.

3. Embrace the wait lines

Yes, you will be standing in line! There are no designated seats. You might not sit next to your friends. You might not get in. Get to screenings early and be prepared to stand in line.

4. Don’t focus on the big name blockbusters

Between the actual studios and Netflix etc., most of them get bought these days anyway so you’ll get to watch them later. You’ll spend a ton of time waiting in line and really all you get is bragging rights that you saw it first.

5. Use the buses

Park City has been hosting the Sundance Film Festival for a long time now and they know what they’re doing. They have a few movie theater dedicated bus loops that are FREE and run quickly and on schedule.

6. Try not to mob the celebrities

Just, try.

sundance film festival celebrities

7. Mix it up

It’s easy to stick with the US or World Dramatic categories, but it’s way more fun to see films from every category. After Dark midnight movie showings are always weird and fabulous. Shorts Collections have never let me down. Make sure you see anything with subtitles in the middle of the day after some coffee. And support the NEXT category of up and coming filmmakers.

8. Book early and start saving early

Yes, going to the Sundance Film Festival is expensive. This is not new news. It has only gotten more expensive over the years. The movie tickets themselves were $8 when my husband started going in 2006, $12 when I did, and now they’re up to $20. Plus flights, food etc.. But, for us, the experience is still worth it.

9. Enjoy everything else Park City has to offer

For my group, this means food and booze! I recommend the Jalapeno Cream Ale and apple pie at Wasatch Brew Pub, the whiskey and mac and cheese at High West Distillery, the huevos rancheros breakfast at Main St Pizza, the birria and tacos at Lorenzo’s Mexican restaurant, and the salad bar and meatloaf or prime rib at Grub Steak. You’re welcome!

sundance film festival park city utah

10. Watch out for Salt Lake City listings

There are a couple of theaters that show Sundance Film Festival movies in Salt Lake City – which is a couple of hours away from Park City. So beware of accidentally purchasing tickets to those theaters.

11. Blindly but confidently pick award winners!

If you go for the second weekend you’ll see most of Sunday’s listings are yet to be named “Award Winners.” The awards ceremony is held on the final Saturday night of the festival and most all of Sunday’s showings are films that win those categories. Just buy tickets for them. You are guaranteed to see something amazing. Hands down some of the best movies I’ve seen at Sundance have been winners of the best editing category.

12. Plan for extreme weather

Park City is a ski town – there’s lots of snow! Sometimes a cozy sweater will do and at other times you’ll want jackets and scarves and hats and boots. Maybe there will be flurries or maybe you’ll be navigating your route in a blizzard. We’ve twice had to stay an extra day because the airports have closed. It’s part of the experience. Bring extra socks! Don’t give up!

13. Use the waitlist system carefully

The Sundance powers that be only sell out a set percentage of each showing so there are a certain number of seats available on the day. First dibs go to fancy Festival pass folks and then the festival workers. After them there’s the waitlist. It’s an automated system on the Sundance Film Festival free app. Two hours before each showing the waitlist opens up and you log in to get a waitlist number.

As of last year you were able to log in two people at a time. Your whole party will need to have profiles on the app to do this. You’ll hit the button right at the 2-hour mark and get a high number – probably in the 100s. But don’t despair! Most people don’t show up so if it’s a film you really want to see, set aside the time and head to the theater. You’ll need to be in the waitlist line at least a half hour early.

sundance film festival 2018

14. Get to know your theaters

The biggest theater holds over 1000 and the smallest just a couple of hundred. This will be important when deciding to waitlist or not. All the details will be in the big Sundance brochure you can get for free at the ticket office. There is also a map in there and bus routes and everything else you need.

15. Ask questions

At the end of most every film there is a Q&A. Sometimes it’s a Director, Producer, Actor, Make-up Artist, Cinematographer. Could be anyone! Everyone is there because they love film – and like to talk about it. They’re often just as happy to talk about what cameras and gear they used as they are theme and inspiration.

The Sundance Film Festival 2018 runs January 18th-28th in Park City, Utah.

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Join the conversation

9 Responses to “15 Tips for Navigating the Sundance Film Festival 2018”

  1. Norman Yamashiro on January 11th, 2017 6:08 am

    This will be my 20th straight festival. I must commend you on your 15 tips. I can see your point with tip #1. However, in addition to my 10-ticket package, I purchased four tickets on Tuesday during the member individual ticket pre-sale. With the $2 service fee, three of those tickets were $27 a piece. I’m getting to the point of getting priced out of the fest. I remember $7 tickets The website has been horrible ever since I started purchasing packages and tickets online. I suggest purchasing a $65 membership to the Sundance Institute. There are free member screenings and meet and greets that more than pay for the membership. Plus, the 20% off on festival gear helps. And I believe this was the first year for member individual tickets pre-sale. A day before the Utah residents pre-sale. As for getting tickets for an eclectic mix of films- via the online ticketing process; I got BITCH(Midnight), RAW(Spotlight), I LOVE DICK(Special Events, Amazon), & BEATRIZ AT DINNER(Premieres).

  2. Rachel Kenton on January 11th, 2017 3:05 pm
    Rachel Mahrle

    Hiya Norman, Maybe I’ll be brave next year and try to do it online ahead of time. We tried a couple of years ago and it was a huge pain, but it sounds like maybe their online system is getting a bit better. Totally feel ya on getting priced out though. It’s rough. But at this point, it’s sort of a pilgrimage for us (I’d imagine after 20 years you feel a bit like that too!) so it will take a lot for us to stop coming. If prices get much higher we’ll probably have to cut back on the number of movies we see though.

    We’ll be there 2nd weekend this year. If you’re there at that point and happen to see me, please do say hi! – Rachel

  3. Jill on January 6th, 2018 2:46 pm

    Hello,

    Hoping someone can help me with selecting my movie tickets.

  4. Rachel Mahrle on January 8th, 2018 9:30 am
    Rachel Mahrle

    Hi Jill, Head to the Sundance website for ticket info! http://www.sundance.org/festivals/sundance-film-festival/get-tickets

  5. Julia on January 10th, 2018 2:15 pm

    This is very helpful! I went to Sundance back in 2010 and I’m really excited to be heading back next week. Several things have changed in the 8 years since I last attended. Do you know if they still release a few tickets to sold out screenings the morning of? When I was there in 2010 I would go to the box office crazy early each morning to try to grab tickets to sold out screenings. Maybe I’ll skip that this year and just try my luck with the waitlists.

  6. Rachel Mahrle on January 10th, 2018 2:25 pm
    Rachel Mahrle

    Yes, they do! But you have to be early to snag them! – Rachel

  7. Amira on January 14th, 2018 1:11 pm

    Thanks for the tips! How do people get to attend the other events (ie. Events with people of influence, like Cinema Cafe or live performances).

  8. Rachel Mahrle on January 15th, 2018 9:50 am
    Rachel Mahrle

    Check out “Sponsor Events” on this page for a bit more info http://www.sundance.org/festivals/sundance-film-festival/attend

    But beyond that, the “not-at-all-official-method” to get into those “official” events is…talk to people. Yep. Ask at the box office, chat with the staff in the brightly colored bomber vests at every showing, talk to people in restaurants, in line, your cab drivers. Talk, ask, make friends, and you might get lucky.

  9. adam anderson on January 18th, 2018 1:55 pm

    I liked the article my only problem is how incorrect number 10 is. Salt lake to PC is about a 25 minute drive not a couple hours. The other thing I would mention is attend bars if thats what your into a stamp before 10:00 PM will save you upwards of $20.00 of cover charge at some bars.

About the Author


Rachel has been with Zacuto since 2009. She began working in the sales department and moved to marketing in 2013. In her role as Digital Marketing Director she oversees the gear loan and review program, social media, blog content, zacuto.com, and works with the team on overall marketing strategy. Rachel has a BA in Theatre with a focus on Directing from Arizona State University. Those who have spoken with her on the phone know she occasionally reveals her homeland by slipping into a British accent. Rachel likes tear-jerker sports movies, reading cookbooks for pleasure, and crossword puzzles. Contact her at rachel@zacuto.com

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