Record editorial: Sundance won’t be the same, but embrace a one-of-a-kind experience
Park City’s sidewalks will not be packed with lanyard-wearing pedestrians hurrying to their next film or feverishly scrolling through their smartphones to check when the next bus arrives. The celebrities will not glide down Main Street, swarmed by adoring fans and paparazzi. It is likely that Parkites will even be able to book same-day restaurant reservations.
As we’ve known ever since it became clear the coronavirus would still be with us this winter, it will not be a normal Sundance Film Festival. In fact, the virtual format necessitated by the pandemic has prompted an intriguing question: If not so much as a single film is screened in Park City, will Sundance have really happened?
Yes and no.
It certainly won’t feel like Sundance in Park City. So much of what Parkites love — or hate — about the festival will be absent: the crowds, the energy, the traffic, the parties, the packed buses. Also missing will be the joy of watching a film with dozens, or hundreds, of other people, a magical shared experience that cannot be replicated online.
On the other hand, the festival being held virtually presents a world of possibility for Park City’s film fanatics. As the festival over the years has become a bigger and more corporate event, many Parkites can’t help but feel that the opportunities for them to join in on the action have shrunk, despite Sundance’s best efforts to carve out a spot for locals.
In a traditional year, snagging a ticket to a screening — especially one for a highly anticipated film — can be as difficult as nabbing a parking space in Old Town during the festival’s packed opening weekend. This year, though, tickets for the virtual screenings should be easier to come by, and there were still slots available for dozens of films for $15 a pop. Sundance also offered all-inclusive passes for $350. They appeared to be sold out by Monday, but Parkites who jumped on the opportunity will be able, if they choose, to orchestrate a personal Sundance marathon.
The topper? While there’s nothing like seeing a film in a packed theater, Parkites this year won’t have to battle traffic or the crowds to catch a movie. In fact, they won’t even need to change out of their pajamas. Even residents who are usually less than enthusiastic about hosting the festival may find themselves scanning the program for a film that piques their interest.
Will festival-goers be clamoring for Sundance to adopt the virtual format permanently? That seems unlikely (and Sundance has been adamant that the fest will be back to normal next year if the health situation allows). Too many of the things that make the festival special rely on being together in person. And the Park City economy will be feeling the loss of the tens of millions of dollars the festival generates when more than 100,000 film lovers converge on our town for 11 days.
But for one year, amid the worst health crisis in a century, we are grateful the festival is happening at all. And while it won’t be the same, we’re looking forward to taking advantage of the perks this one-of-a-kind Sundance has to offer.
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