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Sundance 2016 

From past years' hits to this year's tips, a primer for what to expect from the 2016 Sundance Film Festival

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The Sundance App
Experience the Festival the Mobile Way.

The Sundance Film Festival may be primarily about the experience of sharing movies in a theater with others, but that doesn't mean it doesn't also have its toes in the world that everyone now carries around in their purses and pockets. Much of the festival's information—and the entirety of its ability to waitlist for sold-out screenings—exists in an online form. Some of it proves convenient and useful. Some of it, not so much.

The Sundance 2016 mobile app (for purposes of this article, the iPhone version) is focused mostly around the festival program. Film summaries, screening times and festival venue information are well-organized, whether you're looking to find out what is showing on a particular date, or at a particular venue.

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Yet, there are some odd quirks to the way information is categorized. Under the "Program" tab for the festival films, titles are initially organized only in three groups: "Feature Films," "Feature Docs" and "Short Films." Aside from the fact that the phrasing somehow suggests that a "doc" is not also a "film," it requires digging deeper into the headings for an individual title to find, for example, all the titles in a specific category like World Dramatic Competition, or Documentary Premieres. Other festival programming—including New Frontier installations, panel discussions and music events—is also featured, so it's possible that the minimalist categorizing was simply a decision to allow everything to appear on a single screen without scrolling. Still, it may prove frustrating for those who are interested in quickly identifying films in a category of greatest interest.

There are similar ups and downs to the app's features for helping people get around. Individual venues include maps and an option to get directions from one location to another on foot or by car, as well as clearly describing parking availability (or, more often, lack thereof) at each location. Unfortunately, the app includes no information about the invaluable festival shuttle service, making it of little use for newcomers who want to know which route will get them most efficiently from one venue to another. Then again, that's why those wonderful volunteers are at the shuttle stops.

At press time, it was not possible to test the connection between the official festival app and the festival's eWaitlist system, which was implemented a couple of years ago, replacing the time-honored tradition of camping out by a venue to get first shot at wait-list tickets. According to a festival representative, that functionality was due to be operational by the week of the festival. You can, however, always go directly to eWaitlist.Sundance.org, and create a user profile—which, fortunately, is easier than creating a user profile for the app, every attempt at which over the space of two days in mid-January caused the app to crash.

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While the eWaitlist system has had both fans and detractors since its inception, the way it works is very clearly described on the website. Two hours before each festival screening's start time, the waitlist opens for that screening; a user interested in that screening needs to be quick on the button to "Join Waitlist," as waitlist numbers are quickly assigned. Waitlisters must then arrive at the venue of their hoped-for screening at least 30 minutes ahead of showtime in person, with $20 (cash only) per ticket. Each registered user may only be signed up for one waitlist within a given two-hour window, and must cancel rather than no-show if they decide not to stay on a waitlist, or risk warnings and eventually being shut out from registering for other screenings for six hours.

As for waitlisting with others, it's possible, but not necessarily as easy as it used to be. Where a group of people could go together for the physical waitlist lines, the eWaitlist allows linking with friends' accounts, but only one friend at a time for any given screening. While the website information doesn't make it clear if your "linked" friend automatically gets a number adjacent to yours, a Sundance representative clarified that this is always the case. So far, at least, Sundance's mobile presence does a much better job at making sure you know all about the movies you can see than at making it as easy as possible for you to see them.

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