Food Feature: Mining for movies

Film junkies head to Utah for the sneak peeks and perks of Sundance

A population explosion occurs each January in Park City, Utah, as 20,000 movie zealots descend into the canyon for the annual Sundance Film Festival. For almost 20 years, Park City has hosted an international summit of artistic ambassadors, from the independent film aficionado to the renegade film director to the motion picture executive. Each eager participant shares a passion for film, the actors, the production and the creative process, and for 10 days Park City is their home.
Etched in the heart of the majestic Wasatch Mountains, Park City's history is unique to Utah since miners scouring for silver — not Mormon settlers — were its first inhabitants. Until the early '80s, Park City was a ghost town with abandoned buildings echoing its prosperous silver mining past. Robert Redford first introduced the idea of a film festival to the area in 1981 when he invited friends and colleagues to his mountain retreat, Sundance, to brainstorm an innovative future for American film. Park City quickly became home to the resulting annual festival and today, its close proximity to Salt Lake City (a 45-minute drive) and world-class mountain parks have transformed the sleepy mining town into a bustling winter resort.
Surrounded by canyon walls, Park City becomes a self-contained multimedia mecca for hordes of independent film junkies. Main Street, the heart of downtown Park City, is filled with hotels, restaurants and bars. Trolley cars travel up and down the street, reducing traffic and transporting festival-goers to various screenings and parties.
Accommodations can be slim pickings for the budget traveler. However, creative housing arrangements such as staying slightly outside town, commuting from Salt Lake City or sleeping like sardines in a ski lodge condo make lodging affordable. Resorts like Deer Valley and the luxurious Stein Eriksen Lodge host many Hollywood celebrities and decadent after-hours parties.
Five-star restaurants such as Chimayo, specializing in Southwestern cuisine, and Wahso, specializing in Asian/French fusion fare, will appeal to the crowd whose expense account reads Miramax. However if you hocked the van for a digital camera, you are most likely to be found at the Wasatch Brew Pub. There, hearty appetites are satisfied with comfort foods and tasty homebrews. Popular nightspots include the No Name Saloon (known to locals as the Alamo) and Harry O's, which caters to those who like their bars loud and crowded.
Each year the Sundance schedule is packed with many opportunities for artists and audience members to interact. Screenings begin as early as 8:30 a.m. and continue late into the evening. All premieres, panel discussions and other screenings are open to the ticket-holding public and are held in multiple theaters around the Park City and Salt Lake City metropolitan areas.
The Eccles Theater, a large auditorium-style venue in Park City, hosts all of the showcase favorites. These films include the most recent projects from established directors such as Richard Linklater (Slacker) and openings of popular new releases such as The Virgin Suicides or this year's Caveman's Valentine starring Samuel L. Jackson. However it is the small, antiquated Tower Theater in downtown Salt Lake City that is most popular with up-and-coming filmmakers. Since many films debut publicly at the Tower Theater, filmmakers often get a chance to meet their audience for the first time face-to- face. "Novice directors come to me hyperventilating," says Susie Cunningham, volunteer coordinator for the Tower Theater, "and we do a little yoga, then head out to meet the audience for Q&A." New to the 2001 schedule is the Digital Center, which introduces audiences to innovations in filmmaking technology and distribution, and the Online Film Festival for multimedia presentations designed specifically for the Web.
Passes and packages to attend Sundance range in price from $200-$3,000 and are usually sold out by mid-November. Individual tickets go on sale in early January, and there is always the wait-list line where diehards huddle outside in the cold waiting for extra tickets. "If you don't have tickets to a screening, don't waste your time in the wait-list line," advises Mike Friedman of the Atlanta Screenwriters Organization. "I was able to get into almost any screening I wanted just by asking people if they had extra tickets. Usually I'd pay less than face value and I got into several shows free."
Free is the key word at Tromadance, one of several concurrent independent film festivals created to appease those who believe that Sundance is no longer for the masses. Pledging to give art back to the people, Tromadance screenings are open to the public at Brewvies in Salt Lake. The Brewvies Theater has a great casual atmosphere where folks can grab a pint with their popcorn and enjoy the show.
Other independent festivals include Lapdance, Nodance and Slamdance, allowing audiences greater access to a large spectrum of talent and diverse film mediums. Filmmakers also benefit from the diversity and the all-inclusive atmosphere of multiple festivals that ensure emerging talent and methods of filmmaking gain momentum and widespread exposure. The fourth annual Nodance Festival brings together the alternative digital film culture, while the second annual Lapdance Festival specifically screens new media projects. Slamdance, now in its seventh consecutive year, is the largest of the independent festivals and features films exclusively by first-time filmmakers. This year Slamdance is located at the historic Silvermine, 1.5 miles outside of Park City and accessible from downtown by frequent shuttles. According to Pete Baxter, Slamdance executive director, the Silvermine will offer larger screening-room capacity for their growing audiences and will better serve filmmakers.
A mandatory winter migration to Park City has become an annual ritual for masses of fans hungry for cutting-edge talent in film. Whether you are sipping champagne in Deer Valley with Robert Redford himself or slamming six-packs in an over-crowded condo with friends and strangers, 10 days of rubbing elbows with Hollywood celebrities, exploring the latest trends in video and digital production and screening the best new releases in independent film make Park City a must-visit location for the cinema sage.

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