Sundance Film Festival, Park City Utah

By Betsy Ross, Contributing Writer

It’s the place for movie moguls to see and be seen, where fans can walk the streets along with the biggest names in film and party with cinema and entertainment glitterati. And for the price of a direct flight to Salt Lake City and a place to stay, you, too, can join the swells and catch an indie movie or two at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah from January 19 - 29, 2017. 

First, a little history: Robert Redford purchased the land now known as Sundance Mountain Resort in 1969, the same year as he starred in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (hence the name). From the beginning, Redford wanted it to be a center of arts and culture as well as a resort. Redford eventually became the chair of the Utah/US Film Festival in 1978 with the goal of bringing more filmmakers to Utah. That first festival featured films such as Deliverance, A Streetcar Named Desire and Midnight Cowboy, among others. 

The festival moved to Park City in 1981, the same year the Sundance Institute was started. Eventually the festival, managed by the Institute, transitioned from the US Film Festival to the Sundance Film Festival. With 46,660 attendees in 2016, it is the largest independent film festival in the United States. Park City, Salt Lake City and Ogden all show films as part of the festival, but the place you want to be is Park City. 

Normally a pleasant little resort city of 7,500 tucked in the Wasatch Mountains, the town explodes during Sundance with film buffs, film makers and film movers and shakers (in fact, most of the natives get out of town for the week and rent their homes to visitors for a pretty penny). 

Renting a home in Park City is a convenient idea, especially if you are going with a group. A quick search on Park City Vacation Rentals, yields dozens of homes, from Ski In/Ski Out, Mansions, Condos and Homes starting at $160 per night in a one-bedroom condo.

Car service is a must, especially if you’re staying at nearby resorts such as Deer Valley Resort. Most of the resorts offer car service around town for guests and it’s your most economical choice for the 35-minute ride from the airport. For example, ProTrans right now is offering an $89 special to Park City for an SUV. 

Once you make it to the main strip in Park City, walking is the best way to get around, especially if the streets are more narrow than usual because of snowfall. In fact, earlier in January, a 17-inch snowfall forced all schools in the Park City School District to close for the day, making it the first snow day for the district in 15 years. (insert your own Cincinnati snow joke here)

Speaking of Cincinnati, the city’s booming film industry was on full display at Sundance in 2016, with three Cincinnati-shot films earning spots in the prestigious Sundance lineup (Goat, The Fits, Miles Ahead). Expect Film Cincinnati to have a lasting presence at Sundance for years to come with more Cincinnati films in production ready for distribution soon. In the meantime, you can see the stars of Cincinnati-shot Carol, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, in the 2017 Sundance premieres of their latest films, Manifesto (Blanchett) and The Discovery (Mara). 

If you’re heading to Sundance, it’s not too late on Frontier Airlines and Delta Air Lines offering Salt Lake City non-stops. But it’s best to plan ahead—and that means reserving theater tickets in advance. Your source for everything festival-related is, with links to the program guide, film schedules, housing options and tickets. Passes for showings at a particular location are pricy ($2,500 for first half of the week screenings, for example) but there are day-of tickets usually available at the box office downtown. If you’re flexible and not picky about your screening, there’s a way to make it to a theater.  

Films are only part of the Sundance experience. It’s a creatives’ dream to walk the streets of Park City, as companies try to outdo themselves in bringing visitors to their booths. For example, in 2016, the Airbnb Haus on the main drag featured a coffee bar, a video portal that transported you real time to another land, and photo ops on a bed with a ceiling-mounted camera. Check out the scene last year on this Airbnb blog:

Dining in Park City is truly an adventure and runs the gamut of tastes. A local favorite is Tupelo at 508 Main, specializing in American cuisine and emphasizing fresh ingredients. No Name Saloon & Grill is the hub of the Park City bar scene. As its tag line says, “Helping People Forget Their Names Since 1903.” And if you venture to, or are staying at, Deer Valley, dining at the Stein Eriksen Lodge is a must. From four-star dining to après-ski, the food, the view and the atmosphere are worthy of a visit. 

Time for shopping? Stay on Main Street and check out the boutiques and art galleries. Old Towne Gallery at 580 Main exhibits everything from Picassos and Chagalls to up-and-coming artists. Love Your Pet Bakery at 780 Main has food and merchandise for your furry friends. And if you’re looking for gifts to take home, Crosby Collection at 419 Main has native turquoise jewelry along with Navajo tapestries. Of course, there are plenty of t-shirt shops: Check out Shirt Off My Back at 405 Main for fleece, shirts and caps. 

If you’re wiped out from partying and shopping and have nothing in the fridge, try one of Park City’s grocery delivery services. The Grocery Girls is just one that serves guests of lodging accommodations, hotels, condos and vacation rentals at Park City, including Mountain and Deer Valley Resorts. Place your order that can include booze (let them buy it—it’s easier than working around the state’s still-tricky liquor laws) and your fridge is restocked. 

If you find yourself with a free afternoon, explore the amazing scenery and check out Utah Olympic Park. During the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, the Park was host to bobsled, skeleton, luge, and Nordic ski jumping events. Home to six Nordic Ski Jumps, 1,335-meter sliding track with five start areas, freestyle aerials winter training and competition hill and newly renovated Big Air pool, the Utah Olympic Park serves as a training center for Olympic and development level athletes and is a popular destination for visitors. 

A trip to Sundance is special any time of the year, but it’s especially exhilarating during the Sundance Film Festival.  Whether you make it to a premiere, try the world-class skiing or taste-test the ever-growing Park City dining scene, it’ll be a trip you’ll talk about for years.