Sundance Film Festival: Yes, you SHOULD go. Here's why.

Travelers! Read the latest from FlightDeck powered by @pilotplans
Sundance Film Festival: Yes, you SHOULD go. Here's why.
Would you like to visit a picturesque ski town to rub elbows with celebs and enjoy the latest films? Sundance is one of the most famous and celebrated film festivals worldwide. Get your complete guide to attending and enjoying this iconic event!
Advertisement

Sundance Film Festival attracts a global audience of roughly 100,000 people every year. Charming and historic buildings nestled at the bottom of snow-covered mountains provide a magical backdrop for the festival.

The best part is that it’s for more than just celebs... Anyone can attend!

The Sundance Film Festival is THE event for cinema buffs, creatives, and aspiring actors or writers alike. Or just those who wish to mingle with A-listers and enjoy a taste of fame and prestige.

And if you're thinking about attending this year, you're in luck! You'll be able to say you're going to the 40th edition of the Sundance Film Festival—if it sounds like a big deal, it is.

So now that you're excited, you need to know all the details about attending this posh event—that's where I come in! My guide's got the info you need to enjoy the festival. Plus, all the insider tips to ensure you really get the most out of it!

sundance logo
Photo Courtesy of Sundance Institute

What Is the Sundance Film Festival?

The Sundance Film Festival is the largest independent film festival in the United States. It has captivated and entertained audiences for over 4 decades. The festival aims to highlight and showcase the industry's best American and international independent storytelling.

Sundance is renowned for thought-provoking and cutting-edge projects that inspire and provoke audiences. This festival showcases many of the more artistic and creative films for the first time!

There are several film categories: documentary work, short films, dramatic films, and episodic content, to name a few. Regardless of your film preferences, there’s something interesting and engaging for you to enjoy.

During the Sundance Festival, filmmakers compete to win one of the festival’s coveted awards. They hope to receive recognition and appreciation for their unique cinematic projects.

Did you know that many films showcased at the Sundance Festival go on to achieve wide acclaim and success in the mainstream movie industry?

The Sundance Film Festival also features educational programs, exhibits, and panel discussions for festival-goers, industry leaders, and filmmakers to enjoy. Even if you’re just a little bit of a film fanatic, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to add to your bucket list!

When Is the Sundance Film Festival?

The Sundance Film Festival takes place every year for 10 days in January.

The 2024 Sundance Film Festival will run from the 18th to the 28th of January 2024. The festival is unofficially divided into two 5-day periods.

The first 5 days are generally considered the most popular and busiest. Not to mention some of the best parties take place the first weekend of the festival!

The festival's second half is as much, or even more exciting, in my opinion. In fact, the end of the Sundance Festival boasts a lively awards ceremony and screenings of the festival’s winning films.

Where Is the Sundance Festival Held?

The Sundance Film Festival location is in Utah in 3 popular sites. Screenings and festival events are spread out among Salt Lake City, Park City, and the Sundance Mountain Resort.

Park City is generally considered the festival hub where you want to spend most of your time. You can find the official list of venues for Sundance 2024 on the event website.

How Do I Get to the Sundance Festival?

Those foreign to the area need to fly into Salt Lake City International Airport. Learn more about finding cheap flights before booking! Or, if you're already a pro, book your cheap flight after comparing prices on sites like Skyscanner!

Once arriving, you can stay in Salt Lake City for a night or two to attend festival events.

Alternatively, you can make your way to Park City, where most of the action will be. The bustling hub of Park City is less than an hour from Salt Lake City.

To get to Park City, you can arrive via bus, shuttle service, or rideshare if you’re traveling with a group. That said, the best way to get around in Park City is to use Sundance’s free shuttle service. You can find information about shuttle services and the festival map on the official Sundance website.

A rental car may be a bother for Sundance because there’s no parking at the festival venues. If you miss the complimentary shuttle, rideshare services like Lyft and Uber are better options.

Remember, this is a busy event. So you might have to get used to longer wait times if you decide to use public transportation or car shares. Planning is crucial for arriving on time and experiencing the Sundance Film Festival in all its glory.

People watching video at an outdoor film festival
Photo Courtesy of Sam Emenogu on Sundance Institute

Where to Stay for Sundance

Park City is a popular destination any time of year. That means there’s no shortage of places to stay, although I recommend booking early so that you book before the rush.

If you’re willing to splurge on this iconic event, you should look for accommodation on Main Street. Why? Main Street hotels are right in the middle of the action! Just a quick reminder that hotels in hot locations will cost you a pretty penny during a hot event like the Sundance Festival.

During the Sundance Festival, they do come at a high price. That said, many celebrities opt to stay at these downtown hotels. If you want to increase your chances of bumping into famous people, booking a Main Street hotel is a must!

However, if you want to immerse yourself in the event's luxury, feel free to stay anywhere. Park City is relatively small and easy to navigate. Free festival shuttles also make it very convenient to navigate.

Budget Accommodation Options in Park City

Looking for cheaper accommodations? Vacation rentals like Airbnb and Vrbo are the way to go! Plenty of options are close to downtown Park City, which is a big bonus!

Renting through these peer-to-peer sites is much more affordable than Main Street hotels. Plus, if you’re traveling with a group, such rentals become even easier on the wallet! There are also a select few hostels in or around Park City, including Park City Hostel.

Other festival goers choose to stay in Salt Lake City, where accommodations are even more affordable. Salt Lake City is another budget-friendly option but requires more planning.

Where to Stay in Salt Lake City

If you stay in this neighboring city, you'll want to know the festival and transportation schedules well. That's so you can ensure you get to Park City in time to enjoy the festival.

You'll find there are lots of great hostels and hotels that will make your stay both comfortable and budget-friendly if you decide to make Salt Lake City your base.

If you’re okay with spending around US$100 per night, you can look into booking a room at Hampton Inn Salt Lake City Central or Tru by Hilton Salt Lake City Airport. Even if this is a bit of a stretch for your budget, these hotels are great because they provide breakfast!

Overall, there are enough accommodation options in and around Park City to satisfy any budget and travel style. Again, the most important thing to remember is to book early.

Many festival-goers start to book their accommodations roughly one year in advance. Book immediately when you find a hotel or rental that meets your needs!

How Do I Get Sundance Tickets?

How to Book

Sundance tickets are in high demand, but there are various options to suit your preferences and budget.

Tickets go on sale in October. October 18th, to be exact. The final day that you can purchase packages is January 5th. So, how do you get your hands on them?

You can purchase them at Sundance's official ticketing page.

But as I mentioned, they're in high demand. I would save the date on your calendar so you keep track of the countdown until tickets go on sale. Alternatively, you can sign up for an email reminder!

Sundance Festival Package Pricing

Packages and passes range from US$225 to US$4,000 and include a variety of access levels.

Buying a package will increase your chances of getting tickets to the screenings of your choice. Aside from the Award-Winners Package, most include access to at least 10 screenings.

There’s even a discounted SLC Youth Pass package for attendees aged 18-25!

Based on the website, here are the in-person packages you can purchase to view 10 screenings and their prices:

  • Festival Package: In Person (US$850)
  • Local's Ticket Package: In Person (US$650)
  • Salt Lake City Pass: In Person (US$550)
  • Salt Lake City Youth Pass: In Person, 18-25 year olds (US$225)
  • Award Winners Package: In Person (US$300)
  • Festival Package Second Half: In Person (US$250)
  • Ignite Package Presented by Adobe, exclusively for 18-25 year olds (US$250)
  • Single Film Ticket: In Person (US$30)

Want to see even more film screenings? If you want to go all out, grab the "Express Pass Second Half: In Person" pass for US$4,000. Seems extreme, but you'll get access to unlimited in-person screenings and priority access to all theatres!

The passes for online viewing start from US$25 for a single film ticket to US$350 for an entire festival package.

Got a Shoestring Budget?

Want to attend less than 10 screenings? If you want to save money, single tickets are the budget-friendly option!

Single-film tickets are only US$25 online and US$35 offline and go on sale on January 11th, 2024.

But, it’s crucial to remember single tickets are sold on a first-come, first-served basis. You need to be on top of your game to snag these ones up!

Unable to Book in Advance?

For travelers unable to buy tickets in advance, download the Sundance app and take advantage of the waitlist!

Waitlist tickets are available at the last minute for the same price as single tickets. If you decide to use the e-waitlist, plan to arrive at least 30 minutes early. You must arrive at the screening location in case your number is called.

snowy outside of a sundance film festival screening room
Photo Courtesy of Alan Mark on Sundance Institute

Attending the Sundance Festival

Now that you've grabbed tickets and booked a nice place to stay, what about the festival? I've collected some of the must-know info so you can ensure you know your stuff before you go!

Sundance Festival Structure

The festival took off in the 1990s and 2000s, so the need to show more films and find better ways to group them increased. After all, Sundance wanted to ensure audiences could enjoy the movies easily!

Over the years, the festival has tried out different formats, and now, the Sundance Film Festival lineup has many different sections. Here's what you can expect this year:

US Documentaries

This is seen by many as the most competitive section of the festival and is broken up into 2 sub-categories: dramatic narratives and documentaries. The top American independent work is highlighted, drawing notable acquisitions and media attention.

World Documentaries

Initially, the 2 World Cinema sections were mere showcases, but in 2008, they evolved into competitive events, reflecting Sundance's standing in the international festival arena. Each year, around 16 non-American films per category vie for various awards.

Shorts

Sundance aims to bring the magic of shorts to the forefront in this category. There are 5 sub-categories and lots of notable prizes to be won in this section. Time to scope out the competition with short films from the US and worldwide being able to go head-to-head.

Documentary Premieres

Sundance, mainly spotlighting new indie filmmakers, also features established ones in the Premieres section. Created in the late '90s, this invitation-only showcase presents around 15 notable films from US and international directors.

NEXT

Open to US film only, the works in this section are what the festival calls "Pure, bold works distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to story-telling."

Spotlight

Yes, Sundance is all about premieres, but they also want a chance to highlight exceptional films of the year that may have already been shown elsewhere. This is why the Spotlight category exists!

Midnight

The Midnight program at Sundance is famous for showcasing diverse, reaction-provoking films across genres, from the breakout success of "The Blair Witch Project" to wild comedies and horror flicks.

It's where late-night viewers might stumble upon a new cult classic, as the festival aptly suggests.

New Frontier

Sundance values showcasing experimental film and alternative methods that push cinema's limits, and New Frontier is where they do it.

This section breathes fresh life with the rise of VR and augmented reality storytelling, featuring media-based performances, installations, and a blend of art and digital media.

From the Collection

Did you miss a showing of your fav international films? Or do you want to re-watch a classic from Sundance Festivals of old?

From the Collection is for you—the festival selects several movies from the archive (usually newly preserved or restored works) to run at Park City during the festival.

Sundance Kids

Introduced in 2014, Sundance Kids aims to present a curated selection of family-friendly independent films to young audiences, fostering an appreciation for movies beyond mainstream multiplex offerings and commercial tie-ins.

Sundance Festival Awards

So many awards and prizes are to be won annually at the Sundance Film Festival. I can't list them all—but if you're really interested, read up on the awards and last year's winners on the official Sundance blog.

I'll include some of the most substantial awards below:

  • Grand Jury Prize: This award is given in both the U.S. and International categories for Dramatic and Documentary films.
  • Audience Award: This is awarded to filmmakers in various categories, representing the films that most resonated with the festival audiences.
  • Festival Favorite Award: Decided by audience votes, this film is the most popular of the annual award festival!
  • Directing Award: This recognizes exceptional directorial vision and skill in both U.S. and International Dramatic and Documentary films.
  • Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: This honors excellence in writing for U.S. Dramatic films.
  • Special Jury Prizes: These are awarded for exceptional achievements in various aspects of filmmaking, such as producing, acting, cinematography, and editing, among others.
  • World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: This is awarded in both the Dramatic and Documentary categories for International films.
  • World Cinema Directing Award: This recognizes outstanding direction in International Dramatic and Documentary films.
  • World Cinema Audience Award: Given in both Dramatic and Documentary categories, this award reflects the popularity of international films among festival-goers.
  • World Cinema Special Jury Prizes: These awards honor outstanding achievements in various fields in international filmmaking.
  • NEXT Innovator Prize: This is awarded to a film in the NEXT category that demonstrates innovative and forward-thinking approaches to storytelling.
  • Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize: This prize is awarded to a feature film that focuses on science or technology as a theme or depicts a scientist, engineer, or mathematician as a major character.

What to Bring: Getting the Most Out of Sundance

The Sundance Film Festival is such a popular and exciting event! You want to ensure you get the most out of this unique and entertaining experience. The following tips and tricks will help you to be prepared and enjoy everything the festival offers.

Believe it or not, the Sundance Film Festival is a relatively casual event. Even though Park City and surrounding areas are bustling with celebrities, everyone prioritizes warmth and comfort over fashion and style.

It’s wiser to dress for the weather than for the films!

Warm Clothes and Sensible Shoes

January temperatures in Park City rarely exceed 35°F, and snow is everywhere. Remember to pack warm and comfortable clothes with lots of layers. Hats, scarves, and gloves are a must!

In addition to warm clothing, you also need comfortable shoes for walking around. Waterproof insulated boots are best since you will likely walk through snow and slush.

Jump-start your winter shopping with the top-reviewed winter brands like Patagonia, Rab, and Marmot!

A Roomy Bag

Most festival-goers also carry a large tote or bag while walking around. You are almost guaranteed to find free swag and merch as you explore festival events, and you’ll need something to stow all of your goodies!

Plus, you will want a place to put your extras. Yes, including a portable charger, water bottle, hand warmers, lotion, chapstick, and maybe an extra pair of socks.

Ski Equipment

Park City is well-known for its stunning ski resorts and pristine slopes. If you think you might enjoy squeezing in a ski or snowmobile adventure, pack your ski clothes, too!

Most slopes aren’t very busy during Sundance since most people attend the festival. So you might even have the slopes to yourself.

Town in Utah where the Sundance
Photo courtesy of Stephen Speckman on Sundance Institute

Insider Sundance Film Festival Preparation Tips

Sundance film festival insiders know a thing or two about getting the most out of Sundance.

Here’s the inside scoop:

  • Arrive at least one day early to familiarize yourself with various event venues.
  • Be adaptable to changing circumstances, including being flexible regarding screenings.
  • Read the theater rules before attending a screening to ensure access.
  • Get an early start if you’re taking advantage of waitlist tickets. Most morning screenings are easier to get into.
  • Be patient because long lines are the norm at Sundance.
  • While you wait, use the opportunity to meet people around you.
  • Network your way into a party or another exclusive event in lines and at events.
  • Be respectful of celebrities and try to contain your excitement.
  • Remember to ask permission before taking a picture and refrain from following high-profile guests around the festival.

Is Attending Sundance Worth It?

Are you a fan of creative expression? Do you consider yourself a great film fanatic? Loving the idea of cozying up with celebs during the daytime and near a warm fire at night?

Then, yes! Visiting the Sundance Film Festival will be worth every penny for you to experience.

That said, attendance and accommodations in the area during the Sundance Film Festival won’t come cheap. So be sure to plan smart and ahead of time.

Plan the Perfect Film Lovers Trip

Now that you know more about why you should add the Sundance Film Festival to your bucket list, all you have to do is start planning. If you don’t know where to start, try adding a travel planning app to your trip-organizing toolbox!

Pilot - A Social Trip Planner - Banner
Pilot is a social trip planner to discover and build travel itineraries connecting you to resources everywhere, for free. Pilot makes it fun and easy to create and share your favorite travel moments.

Collaborate stress-free with your travel companions and have all the features you need all in one place with Pilot. It’s completely free and ready for you to try it out now!

Disclosure: Pilot is supported by our community. We may earn a small commission fee with affiliate links on our website. All reviews and recommendations are independent and do not reflect the official view of Pilot.

Pilot Icon in White

Satisfy your wanderlust

Get Pilot. The travel planner that takes fun and convenience to a whole other level. Try it out yourself.

Get started
Get started
Pilot Icon in White

Satisfy your wanderlust

Get Pilot. The travel planner that takes fun and convenience to a whole other level. Try it out yourself.

Get started
Get started

Make the most of every trip

Join 22,000+ travelers and Pilot your next adventure!
Get the app
Get the app
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Pilot Plans web app product images

You won’t want to plan trips any other way!

The trip planner that puts everything in one place, making planning your trip easier, quicker, and more fun.

Get the app
Get the app
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Close button
Pilot Plans web app product imagesClose button
Get the app
Get the app
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.