Cellular On Wheels, aka, COWS are brought in to augment the city’s mobile phone towers. Illustration by Kara Dunston
Cellular On Wheels, aka, COWS are brought in to augment the city's mobile phone towers. Illustration by Kara Dunston
In the interest of full disclosure, Park City's annual infatuation with the Sundance and Slamdance film festivals is not universally embraced. There are those who dread the congestion, the focus on indoor rather than outdoor activities, the annoying clusters of paparazzi and the sense that our sensible winter wear is just too homely to be worn in public.

To be absolutely honest, we harbor a few of those same concerns, but over the years we've adopted coping mechanisms that have allowed us to find our own path to film festival acceptance.

We offer the following in hopes that you too will become, if not devotees, at least admiring fans:

1. The best advice we can offer to avert a film-festival meltdown is to leave your car at home during the first chaotic weekend.

Illustration by Kara Dunston
Illustration by Kara Dunston
Old-timers jokingly refer to our town during that time as No Park City, and they are right. Those who endure the bumper-to-bumper traffic surrounding the downtown area, especially from 3 to 10 p.m. when the screenings and parties heat up, will be consigned to endless circuits of narrow streets festooned with No Parking signs. Take the bus instead. During the festival the city's free transit system is overlaid with a special Sundance shuttle service that delivers passengers to each venue and the Main Street Transit Center.

2. During the first week, try to take care of personal errands like grocery shopping, picking up the mail and taking the kids to the dentist, early in the day.


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It's a good bet all of those movie stars and their entourages are still sleeping off the previous night's premiere parties and you won't have to put up with B-listers scowling at your rusty Subaru wagon from their limos.

3. Take a walk on the wild side - don an outrageous hat and head up to Main Street via the free bus. Treat the experience like an airfare-free trip to a foreign land (or Hollywood). You will immediately notice a babble of unfamiliar languages and an excited exchange of behind-the-scenes filmmaking anecdotes.

Illustration by Kara Dunston
Illustration by Kara Dunston
As you disembark, head for the heart of the beast while scanning the horizon for spontaneous clusters of onlookers. They are usually flagged by camera-laden professional photographers and cell phone-waving fans and signify the appearance of either a celebrity (Oprah, Paris Hilton, Bono, and Tommy Lee Jones have all been spotted on Main Street in past years) or a quirky flash mob promoting an offbeat film.

4. Snag a ticket for a film you know nothing about. Shed your inhibitions and biases and vow to sit through the film to the end. If the film is wonderful you can brag about discovering a new talent long before they become yesterday's news. And if the film is horrible, well that makes for amusing cocktail party Banter, too.

Illustration by Kara Dunston
Illustration by Kara Dunston
If you are squeamish, check out the list of films being screened for local high schoolers, or read the brief capsules in the online Sundance and Slamdance film guides. Though film festival fare is typically associated with uncomfortably edgy material, today's slate offers the full range of subject matter from terrifying to triumphant.

5. Give Slamdance a try. Sundance's younger sibling, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, was started by a couple of filmmakers whose film was rejected by Sundance programmers. They rebelled by starting their own festival which has taken hold among a cadre of up-and-coming indies. In fact, the upstart fest has served as a fertile pre-Sundance training ground for filmmakers like Christopher Nolan ("The Dark Knight Rises") and Benh Zeitlin ("Beasts of the Southern Wild"), who started their careers at Slamdance. Screenings rarely sell out and far from being stand-offish, the filmmakers are in the house and love to interact with their audiences. The entire Slamdance Film Festival is housed in cozy quarters at the Treasure Mountain Inn at the top of Main Street and takes place this year from Jan. 17-23.

6. Explore the future at Sundance's New Frontier installation on Swede Alley. Visitors to the 5,000-square-foot exhibit space are invited to experience a variety of "socially-engaged experiments" involving an alphabet soup of new technology like "software-driven data inputs, immersive 3D images, stereoscopic CGI-animated and rotoscoped videos, full spherical video and 360-degree binaural audio." Don't worry we don't know what it means either but we are anxious to check it out. In past years we have watched holographic trees wave in the wind, watched a virtual pandemic spread across the city and played with a pair of Minority Report-like digital gloves. Admission to the exhibit is free, though there are some ticketed events.

7. Don't count on normal cell phone coverage. The onslaught of totally wired film industry moguls and wannabes has been known to swamp Park City's wireless capacity. Years ago they started bringing in mobile cell phone towers, known as COWS for Cell on Wheels, like the ones deployed to natural disaster sites. The COWS are pretty effective at enhancing the city's coverage, but you may, at some point need to resort to a landline. If you are like most of us, though, you have long ago forgotten your children's and husband's cell phone numbers because they are consigned to a button on your favorites tab. Jot them down on a business card, along with a local taxi cab number, put them in your film fest fanny pack of survival gear and you are good to go.

8. Speaking of that fanny pack. It should include a bottle of hand sanitizer and a cache of Airborne or Emergen-C immune system boosters. During film festival week, Park City is not only ground zero for the global film world but it becomes an international crossroads of flu and cold germs, just tune in to the sound track of coughs and sneezes while waiting for the feature to roll.

9. Become the indie-est of independent filmmakers. Go rogue and start making your own film. The technology has never been more accessible. Grab a few friends, start with a simple mobile phone app like Vine or Instagram and you may be on your way to a blockbuster. The important thing is to tell your own story in your own way. That is the real message of film festival week and if you stay home you will miss it.