The Sundance Film Festival isn’t just about movies

Jan 23, 2023, 2:00 PM | Updated: Jan 29, 2023, 7:46 am
2021 Sundance Film Festival...
FILE - In this Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015, file photo, the Egyptian Theatre is lit up on Main Street during the first night of the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP, File)
(Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP, File)

PARK CITY, Utah — The big attractions for movie festival goers are usually the films and the chance to see celebrities ‘up close and personal’ at Q&A events after screenings — for a hefty price.  However, the Sundance Film Festival has many more events and most of them are free.  

Additionally, there are various ‘houses’ where people can mingle with diversity. Specifically, the LatinX House hosted a welcome brunch for visitors and held panel discussions with various musicians, actors and business people in the Latin community. 

Festival goers could also drop into the Sunrise Collective House, celebrating the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.  Speakers included Steven Yeun of “The Walking Dead” fame and  Daniel Dae Kim, from “Hawaii Five-O” and “Lost,” and founder of 3AD.

Erika L. Moritsugu, Deputy Assistant to the President Biden; Norman Chen, founder of TAAF; Bing Chen, CEO of Gold House; Daniel Dae Kim, actor and founder of 3AD.
(photo courtesy of Heather Kelly)

Other places to visit included the “Indie Director’s and Creator’s Spotlight” focusing on black storytellers, a panel on how Native representation in movies and television is reviving streaming channels, and a conversation on why Jewish people have been left out of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) conversations. 

Panels provide a free Sundance experience 

One of the more popular panels this year was one called “Audiences Want Climate Stories.”  Staff from the Redford Center, along with a couple of filmmakers and activists, discussed how climate change is making it’s way into movies, television shows and documentaries.

Jill Tidman, executive director of the Redford Center, said climate change stories aren’t always about looming global destruction. 

“Whether it’s a personal climate disaster [a flooded home] or a personal emotional, anxiety provoked experience of the climate, what we know as artists is that we need to be reflecting our reality.”

Tidman continued, “We know people are 20 times more likely to remember information that’s delivered through a story than a fact sheet.” 

This is why you may be seeing everything from your favorite characters having a quick conversation about climate change to entire storylines devoted to the subject in more and more movies and TV shows. 

The panel had seating available for 102 people. Over 300 people signed up for the free discussion on the first day. 

Tracy Rector -Managing Director at Nia Tero; Megha Agrawal Sood with Redford Society; Jeff Orlowski-Yang – founder of Exposure Labs; Anna Jane Joyner – founder of Good Energy; Jill Tidman – executive producer of Redford Center. (photo courtesy of Heather Kelly)

Finding authenticity at Sundance 

Even though these panels and houses are free to get in, it is first come, first served based on reservations. So preparing ahead of time is key to enjoying the ‘other side’ of the Sundance Film Festival.  

The overriding theme from everyone is that audiences show up for authentic stories about themselves.

Julie Ann Crommett, Founder and CEO of Collective Moxie, who spoke both at the Sunrise Collective and the LatinX House, said “When you see yourself portrayed on screen, people are more likely to believe it’s possible for me.”

Crommett recounted not thinking it was possible for her, a Latina, to be successful in the business world. It wasn’t until she saw the TV show “Ugly Betty,” with America Ferrera that she felt she had a future in Hollywood.

“It was the first time I ever saw a character I really identified with,” Crommett recalled. 

However, Crommett said it’s a myth to think that only Asians show up for Asian films. Or only black people showing up for black shows.  She said the authenticity of anyone’s life experience will bring an audience. 

“Production companies and streaming services will see more money when they start telling stories that are more specific and intentional,” said Crommett.

Rubbing elbows with celebrities and insiders

If listening to people talk isn’t your cup of tea, there are also some mix-and-mingle tents. 

Learning how to up your latte enjoyment through art was one such activity.  World-renowned artist Michael Breach gave people a lesson on how to dye milk foam and make pictures with it on top of their coffee.  The event was free at the Stanley Creator’s Lounge at The Cabin and people got to take home a coffee mug.  But again, attendees needed an advance reservation.  

Hand-drawn alpine landscape made with milk foam on coffee by artist Michael Breach at the Sundance Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of Heather Kelly)

Other mostly free activities at Sundance Film Festival include the Art House, Canada Goose, and the Acura Festival Village. Free hot cocoa and coffee are available, but cocktails are for purchase only.  Some of these required visitors to be pass holders, meaning they needed to purchase some type of ticket package to gain access. 

There are also more than fiction movies to see.  Documentaries and short films are available, both in person and online. Many are not sold out before the festival even starts. 

The festival runs until Jan. 29, 2023.

You can hear several one-on-one interviews with filmmakers at the Sundance Film Festival on the KSL Podcast Money Making Sense, including the director of “Deep Rising,” a documentary narrated by Jason Momoa.

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The Sundance Film Festival isn’t just about movies