Sundance 2016

Sundance Film Festival: the cornerstone of indie filmmaking and a miraculous melting pot of hipsters and rich folk alike.  Several years ago, my family had the opportunity to attend several days of Sundance by the grace of God and a conveniently scheduled work trip on my dad’s part.  We stayed in a hotel that reminded me of The Shining and spent our days wandering around Salt Lake City, paranoid that we would spot a stray celebrity (which never happened), and catching a few short films through the festival.  It was a downright awesome experience and I’m pretty sure I tried to write a script for my own short film on the flight home (which I’m sure will be premiering at Sundance any year now) – so we decided to come back again in 2016 for my 16th birthday.

The City

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Although we were staying in Salt Lake City, we spent quite a bit of time in Park City, the true hub of Sundance.  Both cities are really cool and beautiful, but strikingly different.  Salt Lake City feels very casual and relaxed: there are a lot of vegan restaurant options and health food stores, and everyone looks like they either just woke up from a nap or just got off the ski slopes.  Most of the film screenings and festival events, however, are to be found in Park City, a swanky but cozy-feeling town that is overrun by celebrities, filmmakers, and press peeps during festival season (and yet, despite the small size of the town, I never once ran into Joseph Gordon-Levitt).  I love being able to spend time in both cities, and I would definitely recommend taking the time to explore both of them.  Maybe you prefer the space and chillness of Salt Lake City, or maybe you’ll thrive in the excitement and energy of Park City.

The Activities

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Most of our time in Utah was spent watching films, riding shuttle buses, and sleeping, but we found some time to do a couple other cool activities as well.  In Salt Lake, we spent some time in a beautiful, snowy park where I got to take some senior pictures and experience a strange man yelling at me to smile in my pictures.  We also took the time to visit Whole Foods about 28 times and check out various vegan restaurants and bakeries, where I consumed an ungodly amount of delicious vegan food.  In Park City, we did some book-browsing at local bookshops and checked out New Frontier, a Sundance spot that’s part tech convention, part film festival, and part art gallery, with a big focus on different virtual reality experiences (we got there half an hour after the doors opened and slots to experience The Martian virtual reality were already booked 7 hours out).

The Films

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Of course, one of the highlights of the week was getting to watch so many amazing films.  All in all, we ended up mostly seeing documentaries, although we did manage to catch one nonfiction feature film and a group of New Frontier short films (these films are very experimental in their format and/or plot).  Here’s the complete list of what we saw:

“Richard Linklater: dream is destiny”
“Jim: The James Foley Story”
“The Fundamentals of Caring”
“Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper”
Documentary Shorts Program
New Frontier Shorts Program

My favorite films that I had the opportunity to see were “Jim”, “The Fundamentals of Caring”, and several of the documentary short films.  One of the coolest parts of getting to see these films was being able to interact with the filmmakers in Q&A sessions that followed the screenings.  Hearing their passion for their art and stories, and experiencing the response from the audience, was such a cool and exciting experience that I think is really unique to Sundance.

The People

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Despite the undeniable coolness of getting to see a bunch of interesting films in such a beautiful place, the best part of going to Sundance is the people.  It can be a bit overwhelming at first to be in so many crowded spaces with all sorts of random people, but it’s actually a really eye-opening experience.  You get to people watch and meet so many incredibly talented and awesome people, from the Sundance volunteers, to the locals, and  the travelers who are just passing through.  Sundance is one of the few places where I can feel comfortable talking to a stranger about what movies they’ve seen and which they liked, and it’s the perfect place to meet people from all over the world and experience an incredible amount of culture, art, and storytelling.  Although there may be a few zany grapes in the bunch (looking at you, strange man who yelled at me in the park), the majority of them are just people like you who love to watch and make movies, and there’s nothing more beautiful or inspiring than that.

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