The Cheapskate’s Guide to the Sundance Film Festival
By Diane Rommel / January 16, 2019 9:00 am

The Sundance Film Festival, which kicks off next Thursday in Park City, Utah, is fantastic. No other film festival gives the hoi polloi a better chance to see the best movies of the upcoming year, ask questions of the director and cast, and hobnob with the rich, famous and thirsty.

It is also incredibly expensive: most hotels in Park City are sold out. Your remaining choices include the five-star Stein Eriksen Lodge, which’ll cost you $18,000 for three nights, or $6,200 for a room at the Trail’s End Lodge in Deer Valley. (Good news — it’s a suite!)

And Airbnb can’t help you here: a studio apartment on Prospector Square will run you $1,000 a night. Maybe you can pack 12 friends into this home’s five bedrooms; otherwise, the $2,150-a-night math probably won’t work.

So what’s a cinéaste/film influencer/curious person who wants to spend as little as possible to do?

Sundance spans two weekends. The second weekend is boring. The first weekend is a madhouse. If you want to stand next to a celebrity at the 7-11 (er, next to a celebrity’s assistant), you need to go that first weekend, from Thursday to Sunday. If you’re really just there for the movies, the sweet spot is in the middle: after the frenzy of opening weekend dies down, before it begins to feel like a ghost town. (Your correspondent arrives on Sunday and leaves on Thursday.) Accommodations prices drop by half and more, if you are set on staying in Park City — but it’s also easier to get screening tickets, parking spaces and everything else.

You’re not going to like this. Plenty of longtime festival attendees love it, though, because it gets them out of the Park City fishbowl: Salt Lake City. It’s cheap, easy to navigate and a 30-minute-ish drive up I-80 to Park City. You’ll need to rent a car, but your options are limitless. Want to spend $21 a night for a private room? Sixty-three dollars a night for your own place? It’s not just budget practicalities — Park City can be a little much, between the hucksters and the conmen and the influencers. There are benefits to getting some space from it.

Tickets are available myriad ways, from the most sure/expensive (a pass) to the least sure/possibly free (hanging around the big theaters, like the Egyptian, hoping someone’s giving away spares — it happens at every screening). The full schedule is available now. Some of the big-name features include the Elizabeth Holmes doc The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley; The Last Black Man in San Francisco; Leaving Neverland, the Michael Jackson doc; sure-to-be-Oscar-nominee Olivia Colman’s Them That Follow; and tons more. Our advice, after 17 festivals: prioritize what you’re not going to see on Netflix two months later; we’ll be at the docs and shorts.

Here’s how we do it: head up the mountain early, come back late. We’ll grab food at the Fresh Market in the middle of Park City (they have a Starbucks, too) and cook back home. In Salt Lake City, don’t miss the legitimately fantastic Mexican food at the Red Iguana. And 65 miles from there is conceptual Robert Smithson’s most famous work, Spiral Jetty, currently administered by the DIA Art Foundation. If you’ve had enough entertainment and feel like seeing some art, that’s your spot.

Main image from Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty