The 2016 Sundance Film Festival was to be my tenth-year celebration of covering the event for my outlet in Germany. As an international journalist it is a privilege to be selected to cover the festival. My editor is proud of my accomplishments and look forward to my annual published coverage.
The application process for the festival press pass is late in the year so the thumbs up or thumbs down that is given to each applicant is one month prior to the festival. Waiting for the acceptance letter is nerve-wracking. The travel and hotel accommodations are booked almost a year in advance because of the large number of attendees to the festival. You snooze, you loose in securing the reasonable accommodations. I have a preference on where I like to reside to make it easier for me to get around due to the typical hectic schedule.
For my tenth season, I faithfully booked accommodations months in advance. I felt confident that my application for a press pass would produce a positive acceptance letter.
Mid-December 2015 the festival response letter arrived stating that my application for press accreditation was denied. What? Re-reading the denial, I actually gasped. I couldn't believe my eyes! The short reason: too many applicants. The number of accredited press chosen would be drastically reduced. Initially I was shocked and kept reading and then re-reading the reason for denial. It seemed too vague and impersonal. Especially since the records showed me as a nine-year veteran. I felt badly. And, saddened that I let my editor down. I would not represent them this year.
After getting over my disappointment, I contacted my film colleagues that I hook-up with during the festival to share my embarrassing news. They were more shocked than I and encouraged me to revisit the decision with the press office. They felt I deserved a truthful explanation! I did contact the festival press office a couple of times but to no avail. The decision was final! Only a portion of applicants would be allowed to hold a press pass. Again, feeling horrible I broke the news to my editor of the denial letter.
Naturally, my editor was disappointed and shared her regrets. She expressed an undying support that rang loud-and-clear in my favor. She said that it was unfortunate that such a festival would deny someone of my caliber of journalism. She felt it was their loss. Since the travel and accommodation plans were already purchased, and to cancel would mean a large financial loss, she encouraged me to attend the festival but wanted an article on my experience as to how I would navigate without the press credential. I agreed.
At this point, the online ticket sales open to the public, three days prior to the festival opening day, would be the only option available to purchase single tickets beforehand. My husband attends with me but he usually wait-lists films after an invigorating day of snowboarding or skiing at the local resorts. Now our plan was to see more films together and take advantage of additional ski time.
The third pre-festival day rolls around and the online box office opens. My husband and I are ready. We log-in. The guideline is that we have one hour to search for remaining tickets and purchase. Easy enough!
It takes more time to search but we find tickets and hit the purchase thread. Our system jams! Our screen goes blank! We panic! Our allotted timeframe is almost over and we still can't get our tickets purchased. We scramble to get on another lap-top. Our allotted time on the first lap-top is over and we have lost our initial choices. Oh dread! The second lap-top connects but system is super slow. We secure a only few tickets of our initial choice. The rest were gone. We were not allowed to log-on again. We were confused at what happened to our first attempt when the system jammed. We contact the help line but they were at a loss.
The following day we log-in for more tickets. While going into the system we realize that our first screen from the day before automatically appeared. It had been open all along but fell to the back of the main screen when the system jammed...ugh! We reactivated it and purchased a couple more tickets. Yeah! Now done with the waiting game and off to the ski slopes. Yahoo!
Later, I discovered a few more options to get tickets: The box office sales on the day of a film-showing, the eWaitlist line and Sundance Institute membership screenings. In addition, I was given a couple tickets to a screening during the second week of the festival from my colleagues. This was a welcomed surprise. The second week of the festival is usually not as desired so there are more opportunities to get into films via the eWaitlist lines. However, the festival is still full of festival fans and never a dull moment trying to get an open seat. It's invigorating as a die-hard film fan.
The eWaitlist tickets are really fun to try to get. It's an adventure. Here's how it works:
15-minutes prior to the start of each film the open seats are sold to people who have signed up on the eWaitlist. A mobile-enabled check-in system allows festival goers to reserve a line position over the internet. One can receive a waitlist number for a screening via any internet capable device. The system also allows one to view/manage their check-in and see the likelihood of admittance to the event.
The guidelines are stated in detail on the www.sundance.org website but here below is the basic idea:
STEP 1 – REGISTER
Register for the Sundance Film Festival eWaitlist at ewaitlist.sundance.org..
STEP 2 – ADD A FRIEND
This is what my husband and I do. We link our eWaitlist account to each other's by going to our account settings. We are then in line together.
STEP 3 – CHOOSE A FILM & JOIN THE WAITLIST
Two hours before the scheduled screening time for the desired film, the eWaitlist opens. You are then eligible to check-in for a waitlist number. If you're early, you'll find a countdown clock on the screening's check-in page so that you'll know exactly when to check-in. You'll be eligible to waitlist for only one screening per two-hour window.
STEP 4 – RECEIVE YOUR EWAITLIST NUMBER
Once you check-in, you'll immediately receive your eWaitlist number. It will be saved under your "My Waitlist" heading in your account. You may cancel at any time.
STEP 5 – ARRIVE AT THE WAITLIST LINE AT THE THEATER OF YOUR EWAITLIST SCREENING NO LATER THAN 30 MINUTES BEFORE THE SCHEDULED START TIME
You then present your eWaitlist number on your mobile device (or a computer print out &. Photo ID) to a volunteer on-site, and queue in your number position. They will have a full list of eWaitlist registrants and eWaitlist numbers. ALERT: If you arrive at the theater less than 30 minutes before the scheduled screening time, you will be asked to queue at the end of the line regardless of your eWaitlist number.
STEP 6 – TAKE YOUR CHANCES
Waitlist tickets will be sold to the waitlist line in queue order on a space available basis, beginning anytime from 30 minutes before the schedule screening time up until the start of the film. Tickets are $20 and only cash is accepted
My Sundance 2016 experience without a press pass was adventuresome. Quite successful. We received several tickets via the online box office. I got in to at least ten films via the wait-list. A few due to being a Sundance Institute member. Though it was less stressful this year to get into films, there was a learning curve to figuring out the festival system.
I've known from Park City friends that the locals can purchase tickets in advance including special discounted film ticket packages. In addition, they are privy to the festival films throughout the year and welcomed to participate in both the film festival jobs opportunity and volunteer program. Kenneth Cole is a main sponsor and provides the volunteers with pretty cool winter outer wear. A nice incentive. In general, the Park City locals have a different agenda during the festival. Those who can leave the city often do. It's unbelievably crowded. They prefer to not be bothered with the festival goers they nickname, PIB's (People in Black).
Maybe I should purchase property in order to become a Park City local? Owning property would add to my list of options to be a Sundance film festival ticket holder, wouldn't it now?