Tom Clyde: Sundance celebrity bingo
Sundance is upon us like the Wuhan coronavirus. It’s a big deal, and would be really fun if it happened in June or October instead of trying to crush it down on top of the already busy ski season. When it got started, January was a pretty dead spot in the ski season. Businesses were fully staffed for the holidays, and then nobody came to town in the cold depths of January. So the film festival helped fill the hole before the visitor traffic picked up again in February.
The ski industry has changed through the years, and skier traffic isn’t as weak in January as it used to be. I was surprised last year at the number of vacationing skiers on the hill who were blissfully ignorant of Sundance when they booked their trips, and couldn’t figure out why lodging prices were so high and they couldn’t get anything to eat. The trough Sundance used to fill is already full. The town is full of Epic and Ikon pass holders, and then we drop Sundance on top of it, and seem surprised that everything is pushed to the breaking point. Our traffic doesn’t work under normal circumstances. It really doesn’t work with the added traffic from Sundance. Throw in a significant snowstorm, and it all falls apart.
The dates for Sundance were established by Holy Writ, decreed by Pope Eugene III in the twelfth century, based on the first full moon after Cecil B. DeMille’s birthday. And so the dates can’t be moved, even if the festival would be so much more pleasant in the quieter summer months. Instead, people are huddled in the cold in “wait list” lines, frozen at slushy bus stops, and sliding sideways down the freeway. The City is trying to mitigate the impacts of all the additional traffic by charging $60 a day for parking downtown. Price gouging has become part of the tradition.
There are new traffic rules and restrictions trying to deal with the mess on Main Street. Nothing works when things are completely overloaded. Some people find the overall crush of this first weekend festive and exciting, and it is, in that Times Square on New Year’s Eve kind of way. I’m not sure how we get a fire truck or an ambulance through the chaos, but if you clock out with a heart attack surrounded by celebrities you never heard of, maybe that’s good enough.
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There are the usual conversions of businesses into hospitality suites where sponsors try to appeal to “influencers” who will say nice things about them on line. There are also several locations that are vacant all year that spring to life for first week of Sundance, before going dark again. I don’t understand the economics of that, given Main Street rents. I also don’t understand the economics of the huge build-out of special-purpose, short-term facilities that are all torn down and hauled to the dump in two weeks. The City talks a good line about sustainability, then we do Sundance. There are no plastic straws, so I guess it’s all ok.
There are published lists of the celebrities we are expecting, so you can fill out your Bingo card in advance. Everybody who is anybody will be here, from the GEICO gecko to Hillary Clinton. There are reports that Sasquatch will be at the Treasure Mountain Inn. Of course the big question on everybody’s mind is whether we will be graced with an appearance by a Kardashian.
Hillary Clinton is here with a four-episode documentary for Hulu, looking back on her career, including past mistakes and regrets. Impressive as her resume is, nothing can make up for not campaigning in Michigan and Wisconsin, a strategic failure that may have been enough to get Trump elected. She won the popular vote by 3 million votes, and elected Trump because those 3 million were in the wrong place. She needed about 20,000 votes in the upper Midwest, and chose not to campaign there. Making a movie about it can’t make up for that. It’s over. How can we miss her if she won’t go away?
The film industry has changed over the past few years. Suddenly great films premiere on TV streaming services like Netflix instead of in theaters. They are hard to get unless you subscribe to the right service. Multiple subscriptions add up quickly. It’s unlikely that “The Irishman” will find its way to HBO or be available to rent from Apple TV or other Netflix competitors. Ironically, the more ways there are to see them, the harder it gets.
Sundance—you can enjoy it or ignore it, but you will certainly feel it. If you forgot to stock up on toilet paper, remember there are grocery stores in Kamas and Heber with plenty of free parking. And try to imagine Sundance in October.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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With ski season over, Tom Kelly signs off for now. “Like a ride up a chairlift,” he writes, “I hope that you’ve enjoyed your conversation with me this season.”