• Festivals

Main Street Sundance: A Cinematic Thoroughfare

There are 10,902 Main Streets designated as thoroughfares across the United States, but during the Sundance Film Festival, it is that historic street that runs down the center of Park City, Utah that becomes about as ‘Main’ you can possibly hope for. Where else can you casually stroll down the sidewalk and just happen to pass Kate Hudson, Nicholas Hoult, Kerry Washington, Quentin Tarantino, Octavia Spencer, Eva Longoria, Glenn Close, Taylor Swift, Laura Dern, Jake Gyllenhaal or the man himself, Robert Redford?

Founded by Redford as a showcase for independent filmmakers, the first incarnation of the festival, then known as the US Film festival, was held in Salt Lake City in August of 1978. It relocated to Park City, 30 miles to the northeast, in 1981 and settled on the month of January to platform the films because, according to director Sydney Pollack, winter would attract more Hollywood types as they could ski as well as unveil their movies. (The name Sundance would appear in 1984.)

How prophetic the man was! It is now the largest independent film festival in the United States, gathering almost 50,000 visitors and launching the careers of such famed filmmakers as David O. Russell, Paul Thomas Anderson, Steven Soderbergh, Darren Aronofsky, James Wan, Edward Burns and Jim Jarmusch.

But with the accolades and attention came the media extravaganza, paparazzi, restaurant takeovers and gift lounges that transformed the intimacy of Main Street into a first weekend frenetic free-for-all of hyperactivity. All of it was conducted outside the Sundance jurisdiction but seized upon the festival’s notoriety. Soon, local shops were bought out by major corporations for the festival run and transformed into luxury mini-malls where the rich and famous would be enticed to enter and gifted with the latest fashion, cutting edge technology, trips and jewelry all for the mere cost of a photograph.

Studios, networks and talent agencies booked the town’s best eateries in advance for their own very private late-night soirees, leaving the locals and tourists out of the epicurean delights of 501 Main, Riverhorse, Chimayo, Grappa and Shabu.

And forget about driving your car. Not only did parking rates spiral to $50, but most of the usual free street spaces were now no-parking zones, and local tow services passed along their $250 charges to ‘not-paying-attention’ sightseers. And the local streets were jammed with SUVs double-parked as they awaited their celebrity clients returning from interviews or indulgence shopping.

But even with the spectacle and exploitation, there is a kinetic energy that pulses on Main Street. Weather permitting (and there are times when near-blizzard conditions keep the weary walker tightly bundled in abundant layers that render them unrecognizable), there is joy in witnessing the enthusiasm of film fans hustling their way from one screening to the next, the pageantry of marketers parading in all manner of dress trying to draw needed attention to their films (this could be from being garlanded in zombie make-up to wearing only a towel), and viewing the creative canvas that street lamps become as they billboard the festival offerings.

The afterglow of seeing such Sundance stalwarts as Whiplash, Sex, Lies and Videotape, Blood Simple, Reservoir Dogs, Get Out, Call Me By Your Name, Big Night, Manchester by the Sea, Palm Springs, Napoleon Dynamite, Precious and last year’s CODA make it all worthwhile.