For cinephiles, industry folks and aspiring industry folks, film festivals provide opportunities to network, rub shoulders with some of Hollywood’s A-listers, and screen indie films before studios snap them up and distribute them in theaters.
The Sundance Film Festival is one of the biggest film festivals in North America, so if you’re going to visit just one fest each year, we suggest you make the trek to Park City, Utah to “dance in the Sun.” Founded in 1985 by Robert Redford, the winter film fest gets bigger each year with screenings, panel discussions, events, and parties.
Navigating through Sundance can be an overwhelming experience —especially for first-timers. And considering that there are only 50,000 Black people in the whole state of Utah, it can be difficult to meet and connect with other Black creatives on the Mountain. Here are some Sundance tips to make your experience as productive and enjoyable as possible.
1) Join Sundance’s mailing list
If you’re not sure where to begin, we suggest joining Sundance’s mailing list. This way you can get alerts about dates, when to schedule your travel, book lodging and when tickets go on sale.
2) Get your lodging situated first
Sundance is EXPENSIVE. But the festival dates for the following year are announced almost as soon as the festival ends. If you plan on going, it’s wise to lock in your lodging as soon as possible. Though it’s possible (and more affordable) to stay in Salt Lake City, which is a 40-minute drive to Park City, getting as close to the festival and Park City’s Main Street is ideal.
If you stay in Salt Lake City, you’re going to either have to rent a car or pay for transportation to get up to the mountain every day, so be sure to budget for transportation.
3) Plan out your schedule
As soon as Sundance releases its film schedule, decide what you want to see and begin planning your trip. This way you can prioritize your ticket purchases and plan out your schedule.
Sundance has a ton of options. You can get individual tickets to each screening and event, or you can splurge on a more all-inclusive pass. Be realistic about your budget and figure out what works best for you, just be sure you do it as soon as the tickets go sale in October.
Note: If you can’t get the tickets that you want, there is a waitlist, so you can always try and snag a ticket at the very last minute. You can also download the Sundance app so you have schedules and events at the touch of your finger.
4) Finding the Black folks
The Blackhouse Foundation is a non-profit for Black creatives and executives in the film industry and it has been a staple at Sundance since 2007. The foundation partners with the festival each year and offers four full days of panels, conversations, receptions, and events. When there aren’t any events happening, the space can be used to network and fellowship with other creatives. Make sure you download the Blackhouse Foundation app so you won’t miss any of the events or panels.
In addition to Blackhouse, Charles D. King’s MACRO, which is a leading media company that has financed and help create some of your favorite films, TV shows and digital content, also has a major presence at Sundance with the MACRO Lounge. This year, Lena Waithe will be screening her upcoming BET series, Boomerang. Jada Pinkett Smith and Angela Rye will also be at the lounge for talks and conversations. Find out more here.
5) Plan to be off the grid
Though Sundance has bomb WiFi at major festival hubs, the major crowds in Park City during the fest cram phone networks. Unless you’re at a hub and hooked to the WiFi, you probably won’t be getting any calls, messages or speedy access to your social media accounts. However, if you’re working the fest make sure you keep your computer, chargers, portable chargers, notebooks and everything else you might need on hand at all times.
Networking sounds horrible, and it can be extremely awkward to chat with people you don’t know, but if you are interested in cinema or the arts in any way, we suggest striking up conversations with people and exchanging information. At an event like Sundance, you never know who you’re going to meet. Before you arrive on the Mountain, we suggest reaching out to some of your contacts to see what their schedules look like so that you can carve out some time to link up or connect in between screenings.
Blackhouse and MACRO are the main hubs for Black creatives so you can always connect with others at their events.
7) Dress for the weather
Listen, we all want to be cute, but Park City in January is frigid. Make sure you’re dressed for the weather and have a coat, sweaters, boots, hats, and gloves. We recommend dressing in layers so you won’t be sweating inside the movie theaters. You might also want to have a book in your bag to read while you wait in line.
8) Stay hydrated and nourished
Watching a ton of movies in one day doesn’t seem strenuous, but it certainly can be. Each morning, make sure you have a nutritious breakfast that will keep you alert and energized until you can eat again. Sometimes your schedule only allows for very short breaks, so keeping snacks in your bag and water in hand will help you press on during those days with four films or more.
9) Avoid altitude sickness
Since Park City, Utah is located on a mountain, there is lower oxygen pressure and a higher altitude. Though not everyone is sensitive to changes in altitude, if you feel nauseous, get a headache, or have trouble breathing within hours of your arrival, you may be experiencing altitude sickness. We recommend taking it slow if that happens. Take ibuprofen and/or an anti-sickness medication, drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol at all costs. There is no shame in resting and taking things slow, most symptoms pass within a day or two and you should be back on your feet.
With so much happening, Sundance can certainly seem overwhelming but it doesn’t have to be. If you plan ahead and remain flexible when things don’t go according to plan and just having as much fun as possible.
Sundance Film Festival 2019 runs Jan. 24- Feb. 3
Aramide A. Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes or A Word With Aramide or tweet her @wordwitharamide