You don’t know anything about the movies. The online film guide says everything is “sold out.” You wonder if there’s any point bothering with Sundance … and then you learn a few helpful hints for picking a movie you can get into, and that you might actually enjoy.
1) Trust filmmakers’ track records. While many Sundance filmmakers are rookies, plenty of others have established themselves with other interesting films. Based on the quality of their previous efforts, consider the Duplass brothers (Cyrus), Nicole Holofcener (Please Give), Lisa Cholodenko (The Kids Are All Right), Amir Bar-Lev (I’m Pat _______ Tillman), Alex Gibney (Casino Jack & The United States of Money) or Jeffrey Blitz (Lucky).
2) Read the catalog descriptions carefully. Every description is designed to make the movie sound amazing—and to someone, it probably will be. What you want to know is what it tells you about your own tastes and interests. Will it be violent? Graphically sexual? “Meditative” (translation: very, very slow)? Inform yourself as well as you can, then …
3) Trust your own tastes. Going to any Sundance movie that you can manage to get into is a recipe for disappointment. If you’re not big on avant-garde cinema or subtitles, steer clear of New Frontier and the World categories; if you’re squeamish, think twice about the Park City at Midnight offerings. If you’re considering a documentary, trust that interest in the subject being addressed might be enough to keep you engaged.
4) Consider the release schedule. Some Sundance films already have distribution deals in place, and will be appearing at local theaters within a matter of months, or even weeks. Should you fight the crowds to see Frozen (scheduled for Feb. 5 theatrical release) or A Prophet (March/April release locally), or spend that time and money on something you’re less certain to see elsewhere?
5) Ignore pre-festival “buzz” entirely. “Buzz” is a code word for “effective publicist” or “has a hot celebrity in the cast” or “deals with a provocative subject.” It tells you nothing about whether a movie is actually worth seeing (example: the controversial Dakota Fanning drama Houndog in 2008).
6) Don’t fight the madhouse crowds. Unless you’re willing to devote an entire wait-list day to one movie, avoid the buzziest titles. You will not get into the Sunday evening premiere of The Runaways along with several hundred Kristen Stewart/Dakota Fanning gawkers. Seriously. You will not.
7) Get up early or stay up late. Your odds of getting in from the wait list improve dramatically if you’re willing to hit the 8:30 a.m. or midnight screenings, when all of the pass-holders are either at parties or sleeping off the previous night’s parties. The day-of-show ticket releases at the festival box offices in Park City and Trolley Square also require a little early rising.
8) Be social on the shuttles. After a couple of days, the Park City festival-goers are getting a sense for the really good films. Ask people what they’ve liked, and—more important—why. And pay attention to their festival badges if they’re wearing any, because you might be talking to a publicist or crew member for the film they’re trying to promote.
9) Look into the closing Sunday “Awards Screenings.” By the end of the festival, the wheat has been separated from the chaff. If you want to see something that a fair number of people seemed to like, the scheduled screenings for the competition category award-winners on Sunday, Jan. 31 is your best bet.
10) Visit cityweekly.net/filmfestival every day throughout Sundance. We’ll be offering reviews and reader comments, plus “Locals Best Bets,” from Jan. 22-31. Trust us.