Sundance at capacity: People turned away from films during first weekend of film festival

Jan 26, 2024, 5:00 PM | Updated: Feb 26, 2024, 12:27 pm

The Egyptian Theatre is pictured during the 2024 Sundance Film Festival on Main Street in Park City...

The Egyptian Theatre is pictured during the 2024 Sundance Film Festival on Main Street in Park City on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

PARK CITY, Utah — Eager Sundance goers were turned away from films during the first weekend of the film festival, despite having tickets in hand.

Screenings of Freaky Tales, Ghostlight and Eno at the Gateway Megaplex on January 19 and 20 of the festival filled up quickly and ticket holders were given “Sun vouchers” because the theaters were at capacity. 

How tickets and ticket packages work at Sundance Film Festival

Sundance offers priority access to pass holders, though this isn’t written on any of the tickets.

The festival sells both packages and individual tickets. Packages range in price from $225-4,000 allowing for different numbers of screenings, some offer exclusive showings in Salt Lake City. Others offer unlimited access for a part of the festival. 

Individual tickets cost $30 per screening and are available on a first-come, first-serve basis when they are listed on the website. 

Ticket packages went on sale in October; individual tickets went on sale a couple of weeks before the festival.

The ticket terms and conditions say movie watchers should be in line 15 minutes before the screening – though they recommend coming earlier to secure a seat. 

However, many ticket holders have said they arrived more than 15 minutes before the screening and were still turned away. 

At the screening of Freaky Tales at 2:30 p.m.on Jan. 20 at the Gateway theater, many ticket holders were turned away. Online, some people said there were as many as 200 people who couldn’t get into the screening, even though they were holding tickets.

Personal experience with Sundance Film Festival ticket issues

My personal experience: I was turned away from a screening of the Eno documentary on the first Friday night of the festival. I was in line 20 minutes before our 9 p.m. screening for the one-time-only AI-generated film

I watched as the volunteers began to slow the number of ticket holders they let into the two theaters at the Gateway reserved for the screening. The volunteer checking tickets would count five people in the queue, let them in and wait for a while. Then they would let in another two or three people.

A slow process as the clock ticked closer to 9 p.m. and I began sweating, worried I would miss the first few minutes of the film. 

There were about a dozen people in front of me, and around two dozen people behind me, when the volunteers announced they wouldn’t be letting in anyone else. Instead, they offered the ticket holders a voucher that could be used for any other screening in-person or online, but they didn’t offer an opportunity for a refund. 

Response to the Sundance Film Festival ticketing issues

A Sundance Film Festival spokesperson sent a statement following the overbooked screening last Friday night: “At the screening of Eno more pass holders showed up than seats were held for, and unfortunately, not all ticket holders could be accommodated.”

On the website that night, around half of all screenings were sold out online. And all screenings of the movie I was supposed to see, Eno, were sold out except for one in Park City on Wednesday at 3 p.m. 

The information desk at the Gateway offered to rebook patrons but said they wouldn’t give refunds. 

The Better Business Bureau said they didn’t receive any complaints or reviews about the issue. 

“We do think that they should clearly spell out if buying a ticket for a specific showing does not guarantee a seat,” said Jody Young, Vice President at Better Business Bureau Mountain West. “That should be something near where you purchase the ticket or in the online terms and conditions, so consumers can make an informed decision.”

When pressed about how many screenings were overbooked – Sundance representatives didn’t give a hard number. They say it happens on “rare occasions.”

A non-Utahn’s experience with Sundance Film Festival this year

Adam Kellner, a Sundance goer this year, said went to the Toronto International Film Festival last September and said he “didn’t run into anything remotely like this.”

He traveled to Utah from Washington, D.C. for the festival and was turned away from a 5:30 p.m. screening of Ghostlight on Jan. 19 at the Gateway. 

He showed up to the screening 40 minutes early. He said he was turned away along with around four dozen other ticket holders. Kellner and the other people turned away and offered Sun vouchers. 

Sundance says they have tried to accommodate for the overpacked theaters by adding screenings to their “To Be Announced” slots. For example, they added another screening of Freaky Tales for Jan. 20 at 7 p.m. in Park City – after all those people were turned away from the Gateway earlier that afternoon.  

But for Kellner, additional movie times wouldn’t help. He couldn’t use the voucher he was given because he flew back home the next day. And he said all of the online screenings he wanted to see, he had already booked. 

He said his overall experience at the festival was a mixed bag because he had to show up well over an hour to some films. It took away the time he could’ve spent enjoying the festival at Park City.

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Sundance at capacity: People turned away from films during first weekend of film festival