Analysis: Sundance scene, and the dreaded fest annoyances, will disappear from Park City in 2021
There will not be any star-studded world premieres at the Eccles Center in January.
The hotels and lodges in Park City will not be filled with the Hollywood crowds, riders will not jam onto buses and restaurants will likely have reservations available. Sundance Film Festival organizers on Wednesday announced most of the programming for the 2021 event will be moved online amid worries about the continued spread of the novel coronavirus. Sundance intends to operate just one live venue in Park City, The Ray theater at Holiday Village, meaning there is expected to be very little festival-related activity in the community.
It will be a dramatic change for Parkites accustomed to the electricity of Sundance for 11 days each January. While much of the attention just after the announcement on Wednesday appeared to center on the economic impacts to Park City and the details of the reimagined festival, in coming days and weeks it will become clearer that the Sundance scene, and the everyday annoyances of the event some dread each year, will almost certainly vanish in 2021.
There have long been various camps in Park City regarding Sundance. Some see the festival as a lucrative 11-day run, an opportunity to be among the first to see the best of independent film or a time to mingle with an international crowd. They will be disappointed. But others in Park City consider Sundance to be a midwinter mess of traffic, parking problems and misbehaving crowds. Those Parkites might be quietly content with the notion of a year without a full-fledged Sundance, even as they share the concern for spread of the coronavirus.
Some of the ways Park City will likely be a different community during the dates Sundance would have otherwise been held in venues across the town include:
• the traffic. Sundance traffic is notorious as the worst of the year in the Park City area as the large numbers of taxis, shuttles and ridesharing vehicles that arrive for Sundance compete for space on the roads with Parkites running everyday errands, commuters and skiers. The backups can be terrible throughout Old Town, the lines of cars on the entryways crawl and the traffic spills into neighborhoods where streets are normally quiet. City Hall and Sundance itself have taken steps over the years to reduce the traffic crunch — bolstering transit service, increasing parking prices in the Main Street core, operating park-and-ride lots and introducing one-way restrictions — but there has only been limited success. There are usually numerous complaints during and after Sundance about the traffic regardless of the efforts by City Hall and festival organizers. Sometimes there are concerns about speeding drivers while others may become angered by drivers using neighborhood streets in an effort to avoid the backups. With Sundance scaled back significantly, the traffic during that time period is expected to be greatly reduced from previous years. The transportation industry will not see Park City as the same money-making opportunity, there will be far fewer official Sundance vehicles on the roads and the number of people driving to Park City from the Wasatch Front will be minimized.
• the parking. One of the going jokes during Sundance is that a parking spot in the Main Street core is tougher to nab than a prized ticket to a festival screening. Parking in the core is heavily restricted during Sundance at a time when demand is extreme. City Hall-controlled spots generally are either not made available to the public or prices are increased significantly. The same scenario is seen in locations where the parking is controlled by the private sector. Drivers are regularly seen circling the Main Street core looking for a spot even with success unlikely at many points. Others, though, head onto neighborhood streets close to Main Street, leave their vehicles and walk. Parking on residential streets surrounding Main Street, though, is heavily regulated and available only to people who hold the proper City Hall-issued permits. When violations occur, the police or parking authorities are summoned. There are also sometimes complaints in areas close to Sundance venues outside the Main Street area. The Police Department during Sundance earlier this year logged more than 200 complaints about parking problems over the course of several days just before the festival’s opening and then the first days of the event. It seems probable there will be a limited number of parking issues even during a scaled-back festival, but a widespread series of complaints like that of a typical Sundance is unlikely in 2021.
• the Main Street scene. The Police Department’s incident logs, collectively known as the police blotter, are usually most interesting, sometimes perhaps even puzzling, during Sundance. The agency is jammed responding to an array of reports involving people in Park City for Sundance. Main Street is especially busy with an eclectic crowd made of rank-and-file festival-goers, film-industry executives, the global entertainment media, demonstrators pressing a variety of causes, street preachers, celebrity gawkers and filmmakers hawking their works. It can reach a feverish pitch when a movie, television or music star steps, however briefly, onto the sidewalk. It can be shoulder-to-shoulder crowds at the busiest times and, even though Main Street is not an official venue, it is one of the best-known locales of Sundance. The shopping, dining and entertainment strip in 2021, though, is not expected to look anything like it normally would. There will undoubtedly be some crowds on Main Street associated with Sundance, but the street is not anticipated to generate the chain reaction normally seen. There will also not be the Main Street corporate presence of a typical Sundance. The corporations usually lease temporary storefront space along Main Street to operate as both showcases for products and gifting suites for celebrities and other VIPs. The corporate setups transform the streetscape, with some of them involving elaborate reworkings of the exterior and interior. The list in 2020 included brands like Mastercard International, Kia Motors America, Heineken USA and Apple.
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