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
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?"
"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.
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
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
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
"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."