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Avoiding Sundance? Consider Joining the Conversation Instead

Sundance 2020: From Gloria Steinem to Lance Armstrong—and Everything in between

By Jane Gendron January 29, 2020

Post-film Q&A with "LANCE" director Marina Zenovich 

Image: Jane Gendron

SUNDANCE DOESN'T HAVE TO BE ALL OR NOTHING. Sure, it feels like a tidal wave of extremes, particularly if you're in the service industry working your tush off, or a first-time filmmaker, or a hockey dad trying to get your kid to practice. But, there is a middle ground. And it's well worth dipping a toe into the Sundance tsunami, even if it’s only for a couple of hours. 

Tip 1: E-waitlist. If you can Uber, you can e-waitlist. For my first movie-attending experience at Sundance 2020, the theater was about two-thirds full. Seats are available. Forget waiting in a line in the cold. Download the Sundance App and check out the e-waitlist. Shazam.

A still from "LANCE"

Case in point: A few nights ago, I snagged an evening ticket to “LANCE” an episodic documentary featuring the highly controversial cyclist Lance Armstrong. 201 minutes (back-to-back episodes). Really. Now, that’s a bit more than a toe dip, but in my “embrace-Sundance mindset” I figured I’d take the plunge. Riveting doesn’t begin to describe this two-part ESPN film that chronicles Armstrong’s rapid rise, his fall from grace, and his (and his contemporaries’) retrospective take on it all. Yes, you too will have the opportunity to see this biopic on your personal screen as the publicist assures me it will be released in fall 2020. But, here’s why diving into the Sundance experience is worth it, even if a film hits screens everywhere in a few months: the Q&A. Hearing the director Marina Zenovich talk about the behind-the-scenes narrative, challenges, complexities, and her joy at the moments Armstrong “lifts his mask” are worth every one of those 201+Q&A minutes. 

Tip 2: Go to the festival epicenter, Main Street, preferably with access to a panel or event (ah, the ASCAP Music Café, perhaps), but not necessarily. Pop into a “lounge.” Grab a cup of coffee. And seize the chance to soak in diversity. There are people from all walks of life and hailing from around the globe. So, why not join (or just listen to) the conversation for 10 minutes or an hour? Don’t have credentials? Perhaps time your Main Street sojourn to coincide with the Imagined Futures Bonfire, hosted by film festival director John Cooper on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. in the flagpole lot at the corner of Swede Alley and Heber Ave.

Gloria Steinem and Julie Taymor field questions from The Atlantic's Shirley Li and members of the audience at Monday's Sundance Film Festival.

If you have a chance to attend a panel, do so. On Monday, journalist/activist Gloria Steinem and film director Julie Taymor—both of whom were representing the film "The Glorias”—made an appearance at the Canada Goose Lounge (a.k.a. 558 Main Street). The hour-long, intimate sit-down ran the gamut of topics, from funding a film about a female figure to political activism. In the audience: filmmakers from South Africa to Washington D.C., journalists, men, women, black, white, Asian, Latino, a high school student, and a grandmother, and everyone in between. Steinem, a self-declared “hope-aholic” and Taymor shared stories, experiences, and advice—and the theory that the path to (and presumably through) the glass ceiling is a zigzag, not a straight line.

Tip 3: Prepare for the chaos. In case you missed it, Park City Municipal put together  handy guide detailing parking lot closures, temporary one-way streets, and tidbits about navigating the festival. We’re more than halfway through the festival, and things tend to quiet down a bit. But, there are still tens of thousands of extra folks getting around town, so it’s best to assume traffic and a tough time landing a table at your favorite eatery. The bus is by far the best way to go. Sundance has staffed up bus stops with friendly volunteers, who will steer you in the right direction.

And for die-hard Sundance avoiders, there is always the silver lining: The slopes are all yours. 




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