Sundance Film Festival Guide

Sundance is one of the most famous independent film fests in the world, attracting almost 46,000 people from around the globe in 2013. The festival takes place every January in Park City, Utah, as well as the surrounding areas of Ogden and Park City, exposing visitors to new cinematic works by international and American artists. If you're a film lover or simply looking for an excuse to explore this exciting destination, book a stay at a charming Park City bed and breakfast, and plan your Sundance agenda with this helpful guide:

The Films

Happiness film still

Each year, the Sundance Institute, which hosts the fest, receives around 12,000 film submissions and whittles that list down to 200 which includes a full spectrum of genres, ranging from documentaries to animated shorts. These cinematic works are separated into two main divisions: competition and out-of-competition. Those that are in the running for an award fall into one of six categories, including "Animation Spotlight," "World Cinema Dramatic Competition," and "U.S. Documentary Competition." The out-of-competition categories include "From the Collection," which features a classic independent film from Sundance's selection, as well as a "Next" division that showcases innovations in independent filmmaking.

A majority of the selected films are screened in Park City. However, the continuously growing event has spread to include showings at the nearby cities of Salt Lake City and Ogden. If you're attending one of these out-of-town events, there are plenty of shuttle buses and taxis in the area catering to festival attendees.

The Schedule

The Schedule The 2014 Sundance Film Festival will be held Jan. 16 through 26. Each film is generally screened twice during the fest—once in the first five days and again in the last five days. For that reason, ticket packages and passes generally cover only one half of the event. The initial five days are generally the most crowded since most film fans want to attend the first screening, but the second half of the fest is most desirable for those who want to attend the awards ceremony and closing celebrations. Either way, there are a variety of special events planned throughout the course of the fest, including opening and closing ceremonies, galas, and parties.

Ticket Options

While you can choose to buy individual tickets to specific film screenings, the most popular ticket choice for Sundance is the festival pass, which comes in several different varieties. Express Pass A, for example, gives you unlimited access to screenings from Jan. 16 through 21 as well as the opening day party, while Express Pass B gets you into all films from Jan. 22 through 26 and the awards ceremony. Note that festival pass holders must arrive at screenings 30 minutes early and be seated 15 minutes before start time.

Those who wish to attend specific events only can purchase a ticket package. These come with ten to 20 tickets, and some include access to special events such as the awards night ceremony. No matter what type of pass or package you choose from, you can also opt to buy a credential. This does not give you access to film screenings, but it does allow you entry into highlight venues and events, including the Filmmaker Lodge, festival co-op, and Sundance ASCAP Music Cafe.

Opening and Closing Celebrations

Along with showing a multitude of independent films, the festival features celebrations from opening day to closing. The day one activities include screenings from the lineup of competing films as well as a huge party during which filmmakers and other friends of the fest meet, greet, and reunite. Another features a fundraiser event, "An Artist at the Table" where guests can enjoy an evening of libations and a gourmet dinner with the artists. Another highlight event is the Salt Lake City Gala and Screening on Friday, Jan. 17. Fest members head to the Rose Wagner Theatre for an evening featuring two special screenings and a reception.

But some of the most exciting celebrations occur during the end of the festival. There's a closing night screening at Eccles Theatre, but most filmgoers head to the Basin Recreation Fieldhouse for the awards ceremony and reception, which introduces the lineup of winners in a range of awards categories, including the "Audience Awards," "Documentary Editing Award," and the "World Cinema Grand Jury Prizes." It's followed up by the Awards Night Party, a huge bash where filmmakers and guests come together to end the festival in style.

Musical Performances

The Sundance Institute doesn't neglect to recognize the integral role that music plays in filmmaking. The festival features an array of events such as "A Celebration of Music in Film," an evening spotlighting the music documentary genre and featuring live performances by backup singers from the film, "Twenty Feet from Stardom." There are also roundtable discussions, a BMI music showcase, and live shows each day of the fest at the ASCAP Music Cafe—2014's lineup features acts such as the Blue Sky Riders, Sea Wolf, Dave Mason, and Jonny Kaplan.

Panels and Discussions

For film-lovers and filmmakers interested in engaging in intellectual discussions about the art of cinema, Sundance also features panel discussions. Panels cover various aspects of creating movies, from the artistic techniques to the role of commerce in the creation process. Attendees can choose from nearly 40 panels scheduled throughout the ten days festival.

Fans will be get the opportunity to attend panels featuring influential individuals in the entertainment industry. TimesTalks at Cinema Cafe, for instance, hosts renowned rock musician Dave Grohl, New York Times writer Melena Ryzik, and filmmaker David Gordon Green. Other panels are instructional in nature, such as "Crafting a Web Series That Won't Embarrass Your Mother" and "What's Research Got to Do With It?" Other topics include technology in filmmaking, women in the industry, marketing aspects of cinema, and storytelling through multimedia.

The New Frontier

One of the newer features of the Sundance Film Festival is The New Frontier. This venue, which is open to the public as well as ticket holders, is a unique space for social and creative interaction between festivalgoers and artists. It contains an array of media installations and plays host to various multimedia performances, panel discussions, and other special activities. For instance, New Frontier visitors can feast their eyes on the "Pulse Index," an interactive installation by electronics artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer that records patron’s heart rates and fingerprints and displays them in vivid, breathtaking patterns. Victors can also catch rap sessions by Yung Jake, as well as storytelling performances and gallery showings.

Where to Stay

Park City is a relatively small metropolis, and accommodations fill up fast for the festival, so it's important to make your reservations early. Many visitors head to resorts and big-name hotels, but these establishments can be overpriced and over-crowded. Rather, guests may enjoy a more relaxed experience and greater hospitality at a charming inn, such as the Old Town Guest House or Castle Creek Inn. If you're looking for cheaper accommodations during your stay, you might choose a bed and breakfast that's not in the city limits, such as Ogden's Alaskan Inn or Salt Lake City's Ellerbeck Mansion Bed and Breakfast.

Sundance Film Festival USA

If you can't make your way to Utah for this major independent film fest in 2014, take advantage of Sundance Film Festival USA. This one-day event showcases works by filmmakers in major locations outside of Utah. It occurs on Jan. 30, 2014, when the fest expands to viewers in nine different cities across the US, including Tucson, Ariz., and Ann Arbor, Mich., giving residents of these locales a peek at some of the unique films featured in Park City.

By Nicole Martinez
Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute

Event Details

Sundance Film Festival
Jan. 16 - 26, 2014
Park City, UT

Sundance Rentals