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This Is the Best Year to Attend the Sundance Film Festival (And How to Do It)

Bringing Park City to my couch!

Attending the Sundance Film Festival has been a (highly aspirational) bucket list item for me, ever since I realized just how many of my favorite movies premiered there. A short, recent list includes 'The Farewell' (2019), 'The Last Black Man in San Francisco' (2019), 'Black Bear' (2020), 'Promising Young Woman' (2020)—and, going way back, 'Four Weddings and a Funeral' premiered at Sundance (in '94)! The idea of spending a weekend in Park City attending premieres of some of the year's most anticipated movies sounded like a dream.

In practice, the impossibility of finding an affordable place to stay during the small town's busiest weekend, not to mention securing tickets to the most anticipated premieres, dissuaded me from ever putting any real effort into going. Well, this is the year! There are not many silver linings to quarantine, but I practically jumped for joy when I learned that the Sundance Film Festival is online this year, from January 28 to February 3. 

There are several options for attending the festival, from purchasing individual tickets (the downside being that those sell out quickly), to day passes, and all-access tickets. Jonah and I decided to splurge on a Day Pass and devote next Sunday entirely to watching movies at our own at-home festival! With the Day Pass, there are five time slots, each of which have a few select movie options. To make the day as festival-y as possible (and the cost worthwhile) we created a schedule of food and film plans that I've shared below for Sunday, January 3. Movie fans rejoice—here's my plan for Sundance from my couch:

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Though the first official "screening" slot begins at 9 AM, a select number of movies and shorts from the day before are available for the entire day, beginning at 7 AM (all times are PST). We're planning on using the early morning to walk Toast to pick up bagels, and maybe even catch a few Shorts (which cost an additional $25, but sounded too interesting to pass up).

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Why this movie: The two films that caught my eye in the first official time slot of the day were the coming-of-age story, 'Marvelous and the Black Hole' and a documentary about a high school police academy in Texas, just north of the Mexican border called 'At The Ready.' Both sound fantastic, but we opted for Kate Tsang's film about a young woman coping with the death of her mother who meets and bonds with a "surly magician."
Refreshments: Coffee and bagels, from a local shop

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Why this movie: 'Together Together' is, in large part, why we bought a Day Pass, since individual tickets sold out before we could grab one. It features two of my favorite comedians—Ed Helms and Patti Harrison (from "Shrill")—with a plot that reminds me, loosely, of Elliot Page and Jason Bateman's layered relationship in 'Juno.'
Refreshments: Lunch! Planning on using the brief break between movies to make this favorite salad (so we can fill up on snacks and popcorn later). 

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Why this movie: There are a lot of great-looking films in this time slot, which made for a tough choice, but Robin Wright's directorial debut 'Land' intrigued me, since it incorporates themes of mental health with nature, a combination I'm passionate about.
Refreshments: Classic movie snacks! My favorite popcorn, a "movie-pour" of a local IPA, and a drugstore candy assortment to balance out all the salt.

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Why this movie: Dubbed as 'Superbad' meets 'True Romance,' 'First Date' is the feel-good movie I'm sure we'll need after 'Land.'
Refreshments: Takeout! We're planning on placing an order at one of our favorite Portland restaurants, Eem, for Thai-meets-barbecue dishes as 'Land' ends so we have it all ready for the start of 'First Date.' (With their to-go slushie cocktails.)

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Why this movie: If I manage to stay up this late, it'll be to watch 'Pleasure,' about a woman from Sweden navigating the world of adult film-making in L.A. 
Refreshments: Dessert! Planning on making some cookie dough earlier in the weekend to pop into the oven for our final film of the day (and counting on the sugar rush to keep me awake).

  • The online Sundance site is a little confusing to navigate, but this page has some how-tos that I found useful in planning, and here's a full list of this year's movies (which you can also download here). 
  • Similar to the in-person festival, different movies are available for different days, so I was only able to select my movies from the January 31st Day Pass. If buying a Day Pass, be sure to find a day with the highest number of movies that sound interesting to you!
  • Many of the movies don't have trailers yet, so you have to rely heavily on the Sundance descriptions (which I hope will make for some fun surprises!). Because I'm not in "the biz," my own research consisted of a lot of Googling and cross-checking lists like this one. So take my recs with a grain of salt—and follow your own instinct.
  • Tickets sell out quickly, even for streaming, so if you can't get a single ticket to a movie, it may be available via a Day Pass (which was the case with 'Together Together'). Keep in mind that you still have to reserve your spots after buying your Pass.
  • There are select locations for distanced, live events—you can check here if there's one in your city! (I didn't see any for Portland or L.A.)

Let me know if you're planning on watching the movies or attending Sundance (or have any tips from attending in years past—lucky duck)! If you're watching on January 31, should we make an Instagram group chat?

P.S. Thank you to all my film buff readers who supported one of my favorite independent theaters in L.A. over the summer. Hooray for movies!

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