Sundance Day- The Groundlings


Sundance is off and running. The streets of Park City, Utah, are a nightmare to navigate, parking non-existent, theater lines inconvenient, and ticket prices ridiculous (if not sold-out). This is a festival by and for independent filmmakers – actors, writers, directors, all hoping to land a big project based on what they show of themselves at this event. The only place for Park City locals is on the sidewalk.
Film distributors and producers, agents and CEOs, spend night and day through Jan. 28 hunting for their next hit. Paparazzi and tabloids comb Main Street and gifting lounges hoping for a glimpse at Justin sans Cameron or Tara Reid’s cleavage. My guess is that this is probably the biggest collection of Hollywood stars outside of the Oscars or Cannes. Just hang out around the Village at the Lift (lower Main Street) for 15 minutes and I guarantee you’ll see an entourage of bodyguards and publicists surrounding a diminutive “name” in over-sized sunglasses walking out of Fred Segal with arms full of shopping bags. Just look for the frenzy of flashing bulbs.

The celebs are here promoting their films – Teri Hatcher, Kate Bekinsdale, Sienna Miller, Steve Buscemi, Heather Graham, Chris Klein, Molly Shannon, Anthony Hopkins, Christian Slater, and on and on. They’re not skiing- between interviews, screenings and swag collecting, who’s got the time? And you must look closely as they’re often hard to spot. The PR assistants look more like starlets than the actual starlets. I spotted John Hensley at the DC Mountain Lab ( Matt on Nip/Tuck) and thought he looked familiar. I could have sworn he was that Taco Bell manager who hit on me at Cisero’s five years ago.

In the days leading up to this annual event, my excitement and anticipation grows. I grew up in Los Angeles, went to school at UCLA, grad school at USC, worked in the film industry (acting as well as an agent’s assistant at ICM Talent Management) and have several friends in “the business” that I invariably bump into at some point during the 10-day event. I think it will be like homecoming. But then on opening day, I get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I see these strangers in black, with finely made-up skin, tailored jeans and expensive, flowing scarves (Utahns don’t wear scarves), talking into their Bluetoothes and I catch myself actually feeling embarrassed to say I’m from Utah. Get the irony? I live in a place that others spend thousands of dollars to visit and I’m feeling self-conscious! I want to slap myself and yet I can’t stop. It’s the vibe. You can’t help feeling like an outsider at Sundance. Everyone, and I mean everyone, looks at you wondering why you are here and who you are. Unless you have an industry pass or are related to someone in the film biz, the average Joe gets snubbed.

Locals often use the word “tolerate” in the same sentence with the Sundance Film Festival. This year, despite the supposed influx of 60+ million dollars to the State, they say they can’t stand these last two weeks of January. There is no free parking anymore. Some greedy city official made the free lots near the high school $10. And the parking lots behind Main Street are charging $30! The buses are free but they move slower than the Tortoise. Hitchhiking is the only way to travel now. Or try to catch a ride in one of the several VW escorts cruising around town (act like you’re with a film in the Fest).

If you’re here just to watch films, you should have bought a festival pass long ago. Only the serious film buff will find it worth the money. Many of the flicks at Sundance are hit and miss so why spend $15 (it was $10 last year) to see a bad movie? The good ones will arrive at theaters, rental stores and TV stations soon enough. Instead, take time to walk up and down Main Street, check out the shops, have coffee and eavesdrop on strangers’ conversations. Sundance is more about ‘the scene’ than participating.

There are three things I love about Sundance and none of them are related to the Festival organization itself- The Village at the Lift, Chefdance, and the gifting suites.

VAL turns the Town Lift into a minihub for the movie and TV industry. Every storefront morphs into a space sponsored by big corporations like T-Mobile, Fred Segal, Philips Lighting, and Heineken; where ‘VIPs’ and media network. I’m visiting tomorrow so check back.

Chefdance is run by Utah local Kenny Griswold, who owns the Harry O’s building on Main Street. He hosts the food and wine event in a space downstairs that will soon be a year-round Mediterranean restaurant called Onassis. In the meantime, guest chefs from Boston, Florida, New York, California and Utah premiere a menu of their choice to a select list of invitees. The place is packed, wall-to-wall, with boisterous personalities from everywhere- including Utah. This is one event that oozes warmth and vibrance. We’re here because someone invited us and here’s to a damn fine evening! At my table sat the owner of WireImage, two girls from Us Weekly and an editor for Star Magazine. One table over was a group from Salt Lake City that sells wholesale foods to a major restaurant food distributor. Another table of Indianans clinked glasses of House Wine (that’s the name of the wine) and laughed about college days. The food was better than any movie screening last night- the chefs from Social Hollywood and Social Miami served up lobster risotto, braised short rib, seared Kobe beef, whipped potatoes and a decadent Mexican hot chocolate with churros for dipping that was like a spicy, melted pudding.

My evening didn’t end until 11 p.m. Now, that’s the right way to start Sundance.
Tomorrow, the gifting begins. To say Utah lacks fashion sense is like saying 0 degrees is cold. Sundance brings culture and couture. It establishes trends (remember the pink Motorola Razor phone?) and displays before-unheard-of companies. They do it by way of The Premiere Lounge, The Marquee, The Ultimate Green Room, The Style Lounge, The Global Green House, The Delta Sky Lounge, The Fred Segal Salon, The Warm Winter Retreat; places that during the rest of the year are Park City’s fine restaurants, art galleries, second homes and real estate offices. This week, they house boutique brands and name-brands- and even charities. Tommy Hilfiger, Kiehls, MAC Cosmetics “gift” VIPs in the hopes that a photo might be taken of Antonio Banderas wearing a pair of Timberland Boots or Sharon Stone in a 2 Be Free sweatshirt; or mention made in a national magazine or newspaper. What I like is that unless I was down in front for the display, I’d still be wearing Gap jeans and Express sweaters. I never knew James Jeans could fit and look better on me or Le Mystere bras and panties kicked butt over Victoria Secret. My belts were Gap too …until I found Linea Pelle. I can’t wait to see what’s hip and cool in 2007. And for that Utahns have Sundance to thank.

Jill Adler has lived in Park City for 16 years, teaching skiing, writing and chasing style.


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