Sundance 2001, part I

By Tom Chick

I have to come clean with you. You'd never know from the column I wrote last year, but I didn't actually go to Sundance last year. In fact, I learned something about Sundance this year that I didn't know before. Anyone can go. That's right, anyone. You don't have to know Robert Redford, you don't have to be one of the judges, you don't have to work in the entertainment industry, and you don't need a special pass. You just show up and see movies. It's like real life, but with lots of movies that aren't playing anywhere else.

So when I learned this, Trevor and I immediately made plans to go this year.

"We don't need a special pass?" Trevor asked.

"No, we just show up."

"Dude, we're there."

I made some phone calls to rent a condo and book tickets from LA to Salt Lake City. From there, it's a 45-minute drive to Park City. Oh yeah, something else I learned about Sundance is that it's not actually in the town of Sundance. It's in a town called Park City.

"Why do they call it Sundance if it's in Park City?" Trevor asked.

"I suppose 'Sundance Film Festival' looks better on a letterhead than 'Park City Film Festival'. You know, more progressive and hip."

I later find out that the Sundance Film Festival used to be the U.S. Film Festival, hosted in Park City, Utah. In 1985, it fell on hard times and was on the verge of closing down. But Robert Redford's Sundance Institute, located appropriately enough in the town of Sundance about twenty miles away, came to its rescue. The Institute put it to use as a forum for independent films. It flourished and has become Park City's own Mardi Gras. For the ten days of the festival, the town swells to four times its normal size as 20,000 out-of-towners flood its tiny streets to see movies.

And here's where we ran into our first problem. 20,000 people is a lot of people. There are 115 movies at the festival and most of them only get three or four showings. There are only a handful of theatres and most of them have only a couple hundred seats. You don't have to do much math to know you'll want to get your tickets in advance. The festival's web site lists all the movies, complete with synopses and show times, so Trevor and I make a list of the movies we want to see. Making a list we can both agree on isn't easy. The Israeli/Palestinian peace accords are a cakewalk in comparison. It gets a lot easier after I bring my secret weapon to bear: if Trevor wants to see a movie and I don't, I tell him it's by the same person who directed Isn't She Great, Autumn in New York, or The Bachelor. Trevor falls for it every time.

"Really? Gosh, I had no idea. Maybe we should go with your choice instead," he says.

Fortunately, we can get our tickets online, starting at 7am one Monday morning two weeks before the festival. I figure I'll get up early, punch in my order, submit a credit card number, and then we're good to go. I pat myself on the back for being so organized and try to steer Trevor away from the Internet Movie Database so he can't look up the director of Autumn in New York.

On the morning ticket sales go online, I get up at 6AM and put on some coffee. I go to warm up my browser. At the Sundance web site, I'm greeted by a little notice that explains online tickets won't be available this year due to technical difficulties. But there's a phone number to call instead. No problem. I'm ready. Little do I know, so are several of the 20,000 other people going to Sundance. Bastards, all.

At fifteen minutes to seven, the line is busy. I hit redial. It's busy. I hit redial. It's busy. I hit redial. At seven, I also pick up the phone from the fax line. I've got two receivers flat on the desk, tapping out a dual redial beat on both lines. The tone dances its little cacophony in both of my ears. This goes on for a half hour, at which point I figure I'll just use the one line. I read the paper, drink coffee, and watch a little wretched morning TV, tapping out redials the entire time. What's the deal out there in Utah? Do they have like three people answering the phone? Sheesh. I've had an easier time trying to win concert tickets from a radio station.

Trevor drops by a little after 8. He's on his way to work.

"What are you doing?" he asks when I answer the door cradling the phone against my shoulder, "Did we get tickets to all our movies?"

"We didn't get any," I say, poking the redial button for what must be the thousandth time, "I'm still trying."

"No way," he groans. "Where's your other line? I'll try using that one. I'm calling in sick until we get our tickets."

The two of us sit in silence, tapping out redials, occasionally glancing at each other for signs of hope. Busy signals all around. I start flipping through the morning paper. Trevor reads the comics and mentions how stupid Cathy is and how For Better or Worse has really gone downhill. He starts doing the crossword puzzle. As I'm redialing, I notice he's just flipping back and forth between the solution, looking up the answers and filling them in.

"That's not how you're supposed to do it, you know," I tell him.

"It's quicker this way. Aren't there any two player games we can play with one hand?" he asks, moseying over to look at the Dreamcast and PS2 games on the shelf.

"I can't think of anything. Checkers?"

"Checkers? That's lame."

We start a game and within ten minutes we're arguing about whether or not you can jump the other guys' checkers backwards. We're redialing the whole time. It's almost noon.

Trevor's eyes suddenly go wide and his face freezes.

"Is it ringing?" I ask.

He nods. "But I accidentally hung up," he adds.

"What? Why'd you do that?"

"Dude, I can't help it. My fingers have had four hours of conditioning. Redial, then hang up, redial, then hang up."

"How could you do that? You had it! We had it! You blew it!"

"It's not my fault. Haven't you heard of Pavlov's dog? It's like that."

We sit in silence, continuing our redial vigil. The beep-boop-boop-beep sound of the redial is driving me nuts, but we already have plane tickets and room reservations. What are we going to do without movie tickets? Just ski the whole time? I don't even know how to ski, except for SSX.

A little after 2pm, the phone rings and someone picks it up.

"Sundance ticket office," she says.

Trevor's snoring on the couch.

"Dude!" I call out.

"Huh?" Trevor sits up and peers at the phone to find the redial button. I wave my hands at him to get his attention.

"Sir?" the girl on the phone says.

"Oh, I was talking to someone else. I have an order for tickets," I say. She tells me to go ahead. I start reading the names off my list.

"I'm sorry, that one's sold out." She says this a lot. I shuffle the schedule around, making some impromptu judgment calls, rearranging priorities, scooting to second, third, and fourth choices. Trevor seems to be holding his breath. He's watching me intently, trying to point out alternatives on the schedule as I cross out entries on our list. By the time I've given her my credit card number and locked in our order, we have tickets to only five of the movies from our list.

Trevor and I sit and look at the short list. We look at all the titles crossed out.

"Well," I sigh, "She said we can show up early for any movie to get in line for the Wait List. They'll hand out numbers an hour before the movie. Ten minutes before it starts, they'll sell any leftover tickets in order."

"Jeez, you'd think we wanted to buy a Playstation 2. Hey, aren't there parties and stuff we can to instead?"

"We're not going all the way to Utah for parties. We have those here. We're going to see movies, dammit. If we can stand in line overnight for a lousy Playstation 2, we can stand in line for a few hours for a movie. Right?"

It was supposed to be an inspirational speech. Trevor looks at our short list of five movies. He flips through the schedule again. He looks at the list. He picks up the crossword puzzle he finished. By cheating. He sighs.

"A few hours in line for each movie, huh? I guess we'll have to get extra batteries for your Game Boy."