Sundance Film Festival: Dance with the sun in the snow

The Sundance Film Festival was originally known as the Utah/US Film and Video Festival. From a humble beginning, the festival has grown to become the premier film festival in the USA, especially for independent film makers. Initially it was held in Salt Lake City, but at the behest – some would say jest – of Hollywood director Sydney Pollack, the festival was moved in its third year to Park City and scheduled for wintertime.

The thinking was that it would be the only film festival held in the middle of winter in a ski-resort and would therefore act as a draw card for Hollywood’s movers and shakers – thinking that has clearly paid off. Sundance has become the springboard for such legendary movies as Reservoir Dogs; The Blair Witch Project; Sex, Lies and Videotapes; The Matador and El Mariachi, to name but a few, not to mention the careers of Quentin Tarantino, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Robert Rodriguez amongst others.

As a film festival, Sundance has become legendary primarily for being the premier showcase of independent cinema. Whereas the first number of festivals centred mostly on retrospectives of Hollywood classics, the popularity of independent movies was what made the festival a popular success.

From the outset, it was envisaged that the festival would showcase at least eight independent films. These proved to be so popular that it contributed to demand rising for initially a second and then a third run of the festival and now boasts more than a hundred movies each year.

Other trademarks that distinguish Sundance from similar festivals, are the Festival’s encouragement of short films and documentary movie making, of experimenting with alternative ways of film making (think Blair Witch Project), the screening of independent foreign movies, its late night screenings of material for adult film goers ranging from blood-and-gore to way-out whack and its commitment to restore and preserve independent movies from the Sundance Collection.

The Sundance Film Festival is held each year in the middle of January and lasts for 10 days, spread-out over two 5-day sessions, granting movie buffs a splendid opportunity to indulge their love of movies. Movie goers can either buy tickets for individual events, special interests or festival passes, making it a simple matter to attend, but with being spoilt for choice, a less simple one to decide on what to see.

An abundance of winter sport facilities

Most of the festival takes place in Park City, which is located about 45 minutes by road from Salt Lake City, the latter of which also plays host to some of the movies on show during the festival. The third venue of the film festival is the Sundance resort, owned by Hollywood golden man, Robert Redford. The Sundance Resort is home to the Sundance Institute, which is responsible for organising the annual festival, but it is primarily a ski resort and boasts 41 ski trails, almost all of which are intended for advanced skiers.

The Sundance Resort is closer to the city of Provo than Salt Lake City, but skiers would do well to consider a stay closer to Salt Lake City where they can choose between several resorts, including Deer Valley, Alta, Snowbird and of course, the Park City Mountain Resort. As a former host city for the Winter Olympics, Park City boasts ski jumps, bobsleigh, luge and skeleton runs at the Utah Olympic Park and offers you an opportunity to enjoy winter sports of a more adventurous variety where you can test your Olympic mettle.

National Parks in Utah

As big a draw card as the Sundance Film Festival has become, Utah offers many other opportunities to entice visitors. The state is second only to Alaska and California in the number of National Parks within its borders, many of which were popularised by the splendid photography of Ansel Adams.

Arches National Park

Arches National Park is perhaps best known for its rock formations that look like roman arches. Although some of the arching rock formations have since given way to erosion, it is a captivating place to visit and you may be forgiven for believing it to be a doorway to another dimension.

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon is well-known for its rock formations looking like blazing fires that turned to stone. To see the extraordinary rocky peaks in winter under snow will instantaneously make you draw the connection between the canyon and the towers of the Salt Lake Temple much further north in Salt Lake City.

Zion National Park

Zion National Park offers outdoor enthusiasts several hiking and horseback trails during summer. A view of Zion Canyon from Angel’s Landing offers a breathtaking vista that is true to the lookout post’s name. If you don’t fancy the tourist trap of the Grand Canyons but still want to marvel at the wonder of large river canyons, a trip to Canyonlands NP is a viable option.

Canyonlands National Park

As a lesser known destination, you’re likely to get everything that the Grand Canyon has to offer, albeit perhaps on a lesser scale, plus some wonderful scenery in the Needles district. If you desire to see an arching rock formation, you can do so without travelling all the way north to Arches NP. Canyonlands is home to the popular Mesa Arch in the Sky district, along with several other rock formations.

Capitol Reef National Park

A much lesser known destination is Capitol Reef National Park. Originally administered as part of Zion NP, it contains yet more spectacular arching rock formation, buttes and canyons. The park is less accessible but an option for those willing to rough it.

Salt Lake City

You need not venture so far south for spectacular scenery. At any rate, in winter your options will be limited. But do not discount Salt Lake City’s jewel itself. The Great Salt Lake is the largest salt water lake in the western hemisphere and although relatively shallow compared to other North American lakes, it offers wonderful reflections of the adjacent mountains that put you right back in touch with the magical wonderscape that is Utah.

Salt Lake City itself boasts an array of sites of interest to visitors. As the main gateway to the area and the Sundance Film Festival, you are bound to pass through and whilst some British politicians may view Salt Lake City as being in the middle of nowhere, going on a holiday to this nowhere destination is maybe just the sort of thing to get you talking.

If you’ve visited Utah or attended the Sundance Film Festival, please share your thoughts with us.


  1. Kristina says

    Sundance is such an exclusive film festival to get invited to. A true wonder. I have a few films coming out next year and I’m praying praying praying that they get accepted into the festival.

  2. Christina Merchant says

    I’ve been skiing at Park City and Deer Valley Resorts for the past 15 years, and I would strongly recommend that you plan your Sundance stay in and around the town of Park City. Park City’s historic Main Street is full of art galleries, jewelry stores, high-end clothing retailers, and locally owned and run restaurants (you won’t find chain restaurants here).

    My go-to restaurant is Zoom Park City. And in the spirit of Sundance, this is a great one to visit because it’s one of Robert Redford’s restaurants, and while you might not be able to secure a reservation, they have about 12 seats at the bar that are first-come, first-served. I’ve never had to wait more than 10 minutes for a bar seat, though keep in mind waits may be longer during Sundance. Ask to sit in the kitchen bar, where you’ll get to see the master chefs whip up gourmet meals, one plate at a time. Their menu is ever-changing but you can’t go wrong with the daily special, and an order of hand-cut french fries.

    The best thing about Park City is that it’s an easy drive from the Salt Lake City airport, at less than 45 minutes. Most of the hotels offer a shuttle service, and if you choose to rent a car, the drive up the mountain is easy enough, even for an East-coaster who isn’t used to driving in the mountains.

    Not a skiier? You should still visit the Deer Valley Snow Park Lodge, located at the base of the mountain. There you’ll find gourmet slopeside food unlike any ski resort you’ve ever visited. Fireplaces and stone hearths make the lodge an inviting place to relax while your friends hit the slopes. Make sure to try the world famous Deer Valley Turkey Chilli.

    As far as lodging, I’ve always rented a condo at The Pinnacles at Deer Valley, but I know there are tons of great options for lodging. Does anyone have specific recommendations?
    Christina Merchant recently posted: Swap Your Videos for Travel Discounts… and CashMy Profile


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