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Sundance Film Festival

Get the inside scoop on the annual celebration of film that is the Sundance Film Festival.

Hitting it big at the Sundance Film Festival can launch a long-term career for filmmakers. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Hitting it big at the Sundance Film Festival can launch a long-term career for filmmakers.

Each January the small town of Park City, Utah, becomes the center of the film industry with the arrival of the Sundance Film Festival. Sponsored by the Sundance Institute, the Sundance Film Festival has become one of the world's best-known independent film festivals, attracting celebrities and average tourists alike.

The History of the Sundance Film Festival

When the Sundance Film Festival was first held in 1978, it was called the United States Film Festival. In the beginning, the festival held a competition for American films only. Eventually, however, the event added documentaries and international films to the competition, so the name was changed. The Sundance Institute took over the festival in 1985 and officially changed the name to the Sundance Film Festival in 1991. By this time, Robert Redford played a significant role in shaping the atmosphere of the event.

In 2009, the Sundance Film Festival ran from January 15-25. Organizers of the festival whittled down more than 9,000 films to 200 that were viewed by at least 50,000 attendees in 12 theaters. A complete list of the 2009 films, including descriptions and screening schedules, is available on the official Sundance Film Festival Web site. You can also view past winning films by visiting the Festival History page on the Web site.

Other Events

The Sundance Film Festival also offers events other than film viewings. Visitors can attend live music shows, participate in panel discussions with filmmakers and leaders in the film industry and attend parties. Information about each event is available on the Off Screen Events page of the Sundance Film Festival Web site.

How to Purchase Tickets

While many celebrities ensure their place at the Sundance Film Festival, there is room for the average tourist as well. Tickets are available on the official Web site of the Sundance Film Festival. To order tickets in advance, online registration is required. Registrants will be assigned a time in which they may purchase their desired tickets. Registration for Festival Passes and Ticket Packages typically takes place in September and October, while registration for Individual Tickets occurs in December. There are also special registration dates and packages for Utah residents. If a registrant is lucky enough to be assigned to a time slot, he or she will receive a notification via email. Whether or not a time slot is actually assigned to an individual depends on the number of people who register.

No need to despair if the registration dates have come and gone. Individual tickets may still be a possibility right up to the day of the screening. Online ticket sales take place in January. A certain number of tickets are also reserved until the day of the screening. Each morning at 8:00 a.m., tickets for the day's screenings are available at the Main Box Office in Salt Lake City or in Park City. Make note that these tickets must be purchased in person and aren't offered on the Web site.

The last option is the waitlist ticket purchase, which allows visitors to go directly to the theater where the screening will occur. Numbers are distributed to people in the theater beginning 2 hours before the screening. Everyone in the party must show up as only one number is released to each person. Thirty minutes before the screening, tickets are sold to the waitlist participants in numerical order until all tickets are gone.

For visitors who plan to take in several screenings, a ticket package may be an economical option. Ranging in price from $325 to $750, packages allow visitors to select different screenings. Some packages also include admission to the Opening Night Party or the Awards Night Party. Special packages are available to Utah residents.

Where to Stay

Accommodations for the Sundance Film Festival vary as much as the individuals who attend. Hosting many of the festival events, Park City is a popular place to stay. However, Salt Lake City also hosts several events during the Sundance Film Festival, making it another viable option for festival attendees. Several hotels and resorts also partner with the Sundance Institute to become Official Providers.

Visitors might also like to stay at the Sundance Resort itself. While this is a pricey option, the resort's natural setting offers a unique experience for any guest. The Sundance Resort also serves as an official venue for some film screenings during the festival.


Visitors should also consider what type of transportation they will use after arriving at the Sundance Film Festival. Because Park City is small and overflowing with people during the festival, attempting to drive is often a hassle. Free shuttle buses are a better option, as they stop at all the venues as well as popular party locations. The buses also run well into the night. Taxis are another viable option for transportation between Sundance Film Festival venues.


Because the Sundance Film Festival takes places in Utah during the winter, proper attire is a must. Temperatures typically hover near 30 degrees Fahrenheit in January. Snow is also a distinct possibility in the Park City area during the Sundance Film Festival. Warm clothes and shoes that stand up to slush and snow are good choices to pack for the trip.

The Sundance Channel

Visitors who can't physically attend the Sundance Film Festival might enjoy watching the festivities on the Sundance Channel. While not operated by the Sundance Institute, the Sundance Channel strives to maintain the same ideals. During January, the Sundance Channel offers 31 Days of Sundance -- 31 movies -- to celebrate the festival and also covers the actual festival. Whether in person or on television, the Sundance Film Festival is great entertainment for any film enthusiast.

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