How Utahns Really Feel About Sundance Film Festival

There are few things on the cultural calendar in Utah that are as out of sync with the traditional, quaint Beehive lifestyle as the Sundance Film Festival. Each year, thousands of people in black descend upon Park City like a plague of Mormon crickets: Publicists, industry wonks, filmmakers, photographers, celebrities and their handlers, and a host of hangers-on crowd fresh from L.A., be-scarved, be-turtlenecked, be-satcheled and shod in impractical shoes.

Utah Sundance Film Festival
Poster courtesy of Sundance Institute

Of course, we Utahns love Sundance. It’s a brush with the larger world that all Utahns secretly crave. (See: The Winter Olympic Games, 2002.) Despite the changing landscape of Utah (especially Park City), we maintain our low self-esteem problem—an underdog, outsider stance that hearkens back to the days of Brigham. On one hand, we’re proud of our weird heritage and, on the other, we seek approval like a middle child. We are the Jan Brady of the United States.

Each year, the crowd that arrives from the coast and the local crowd that arrives from the Salt Lake Valley mingle on Main Street to babble in two separate languages. (Park City residents usually bug out during the January invasion—ironically, the perfect time of year to visit Southern California.) The first language is the disdainful speech of the aloof artist, wherein to actually like something is decidedly uncool. The local language is one of unbridled enthusiasm and charming goofiness. We like things here. We really do. I love us for that. 

The Sundancers, however, come with their lists, a hierarchy of A through Z listers. There are clipboards waiting outside of all the private parties, celebrity lounges and concerts. Out there in party land, there are lists upon lists upon lists and rope lines and waiting in the cold to get into someplace only to find that there’s another level of VIP-ness beyond the first gate. There always seems to be another level of even more exclusive and elusive exclusivity beyond—each layered inside the next like a matryoshka doll. I imagine that eventually, you get to one super cool room, containing one super cool VIP. Who could, if there were anyone else there to hear, be heard to exclaim, “I think I won!” 

Welcome back to town, Hollywood. Don’t slip on the ice.

Jeremy Pugh
Jeremy Pugh
Jeremy Pugh is Salt Lake magazine's Editor. He covers culture, history, the outdoors and whatever needs a look. Jeremy is also the author of the book "100 Things to Do in Salt Lake City Before You Die" and the co-author of the history, culture and urban legend guidebook "Secret Salt Lake."

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