What I learned at Sundance 2015
Published 9:43 am Monday, February 16, 2015
By Lauren Bradshaw
So endeth my first experience at the Sundance Film Festival, and already I know I have been bitten with the bug. There is no doubt in my mind that I will go back next year, and probably many years after that. It was basically everything I love: movies, attendees that also love movies, celebrity sightings, great food, beautiful scenery, nice volunteers, clean bathrooms, etc. In fact, my very first impression of the festival was how nice everyone was (from the filmmakers, to the staff, to the attendees) and how efficiently the place was run! Enthusiastic volunteers actually know what they are talking about, and if you look the slightest bit lost they ask if you need help. How refreshing. This festival is a well-oiled machine.
A normal day in Park City, Utah, constantly on the go and full of “will I get into this screening” stress, makes each day fly by. So much so, at times I still feel like I haven’t even gone to Sundance yet, though my many reviews tell me otherwise. Over the amazing week, I saw 21 movies, waited in many fruitless waitlist lines (my baptism in fire), saw celebs milling about, ate at a restaurant from “Diners, Drive Ins and Dives,” and saw a few movies in Sundance’s signature theater, The Egyptian! I am already planning my trip to next year’s festival and have started preparing my boss for the time I will need to take off. Is it January 2016 yet?
My top five films of Sundance
If I had to choose the best movies of the week, here they are (in order):
1 (Tie). “Z For Zachariah” and “Me & Earl & The Dying Girl”
5. “It Follows”
The Sundance E-Waitlist saga
For practice, and because I wanted to see the Nina Simone documentary, “What Happened Miss Simone,” I first tried my hand at the Sundance E-Waitlist. Imagine my surprise when I got fifth! The waitlist ended up being full within one second. The next time I checked, I was number 0, which I assume was first in line. I say “assume” because I didn’t make it to the theater in time. When you use the E-Waitlist, you have to be at the theater at least 30 min before the show begins. And when they say 30 minutes they mean 30 minutes, which I really respect. Throughout the entire time I was at Sundance, there were many times when the hard cutoff helped me get into screenings. For example, I was supposed to be No. 71 on the waitlist for the “Strangerland” premiere, but because so many people were late getting into the line, my number ended up being No. 37 and I was one of the last people to get into the screening. So, let this be the lesson that even if you have a high(ish) number, still go wait in line because you may get lucky and others won’t get there in time.
Note: I said “high(ish)” because if you are at the Eccles Theater and are in the 100 range, you may still get into the screening. However, if you are anything above 100 in the Egyptian Theater, you probably won’t get in. Eccles has 1,000+ seats, whereas the Egyptian only has 266.
Due to bad Park City traffic, I was 10 minutes late to “What Happened Miss Simone.” I then had to wait in the overflow waitlist and after 30 minutes of waiting, they let us know it was a lost cause. Womp womp. I even saw some ticket holders who were not allowed inside — they arrived about 5 minutes after the start time. Again, understandable because if you aren’t in a seat 15 minutes before the show starts, it will go to a wait-lister so note to all: BE ON TIME!
So, then I waited for three hours at Eccles for my next screening, “The Bronze!” Thankfully, I made it into that one. But let’s backtrack and discuss my most interesting discovery at Sundance while I waited around Eccles, the insanely swanky port-o-potties. Look at the hardwood floors. I couldn’t get over it. It is nicer than the bathroom in my apartment.
To be honest, with all of my movie watching, some days there was barely time to eat. For quick bites, you can always go to Burger King right near the Yarrow Hotel or to the Fresh Market grocery store for a sandwich. If you do have some extra time, there are tons of restaurants in downtown Park City that all have great food. Of course, some were fairly expensive, but you can always find a burger joint to seat you. And I don’t know if I was just lucky, but I never had to wait more than 30 minutes for a table. The one meal that really stood out to me — and that my friends were nice enough to indulge — was my lunch choice on our first day in Park City. While flipping channels last month, I stopped on an episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” that was focused in Park City! One place that was featured is Sammy’s Diner, a cute, casual restaurant situated in a strip mall.
No surprise, the food was great and the service was impeccable. Our waitress Wendy was super friendly, much like everyone else in Park City that I have encountered. And now I can say I ate at a place from the show. Guy Fieri may be a bit ridiculous, but his recommendation was spot on.
Inside the Sundance HQ I spotted directors Edgar Wright and Ava DuVernay. Didn’t get a chance to talk to Edgar, just saw him walking through, but Ava is friendly with one of my colleagues and she seems like the nicest lady ever. She saw my colleague from a distance and ran over to say hello. She was even nice to a paparazzo who was trying to snap her pic! Can’t beat that.
I also saw so many celebrities just enjoying movies like the rest of us normals: Jack Black, Mark Duplass and Katie Aselton were in my screening of “The Bronze;” Michael Shannon was in my screening of “End Of The Tour;” Rhea Pearlman watched “The Overnight,” etc. Hell, even walking down the street I saw celeb after celeb. Of course, I loved it. I saw Adam Scott standing outside of a restaurant, Zachary Quinto walking down the street toward the Empire Theater, and Brooklyn Decker, Molly Shannon and Cobie Smulders in the Acura Press Lounge doing interviews. That doesn’t even include all of the celebrities that were on-hand to introduce their movies and do Q&A’s afterward (Nicole Kidman, Kristen Wiig, James Franco, Jason Segel, Chris Pine, Margot Robbie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sarah Silverman, Brad Pitt, etc.).
Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda
• Shoulda not worried about planning out my entire schedule before I left because that was shot to hell on day one and I basically had to just go with the flow the entire time.
• Shoulda packed a backpack. My tote bag is pretty hard to manage and did not work well.
• Shoulda bought a Google Chromebook, so I didn’t have to worry about lugging my Macbook Pro around and worry about breaking it.
• Coulda packed less, but of course I didn’t. Next time!
• Shoulda stayed somewhere on the bus line, so I didn’t have to worry about jumping in my colleague’s car to drive back to the condo every night.
• Shoulda thought more about traffic so I wouldn’t have missed the first screening of the Festival.
• Shoulda canceled my waitlist number when I realized I wasn’t going to make it in time because if you don’t cancel twice in a row, you get a warning from Sundance. If it happens a third time, your waitlist account will be suspended for six hours. Of course, I only didn’t cancel that one time, but I never made that mistake again. I’m also convinced that if you forget to cancel, there is something in the programming code that makes you have bad waitlist numbers for awhile. But that’s just my theory.
• I drank so much water because everyone is obsessed with talking about altitude sickness. I felt fine the entire time, but I probably drank 81,828 gallons of water a day. Sundance gives you your own free water bottle and has water stations everywhere. You basically cannot go thirsty. Thankfully the port-o-potties are amazing!
LAUREN BRADSHAW grew up in Courtland, graduated from Southampton Academy and doubled-majored in foreign affairs and history at the University of Virginia. She lives in the Washington, D.C., area and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org