EIFF Life at Sundance Film Festival

EIFF's Deputy Artistic Director, Diane Henderson, attended the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah this January. Here she describes a day in the life as a filmgoer at the Festival, along with some of her favourite events.

One thing at Sundance this year was bizarrely conspicuous by its absence – namely, snow! Park City is predominantly a winter sports resort and the lack of snow on the pavements (or should I say sidewalks?), and the surrounding ski slopes, was a whole new experience for the world’s film industry bods more used to trekking through blizzards than basking in the strong sunshine as we did this year.

Navigating between cinemas was therefore a far easier undertaking than it has been in other years. It was still freezing cold but the bright sunshine brought out the best in people, as we all rushed between venues - on foot, or on the excellent free shuttle-bus service, which runs from morning until late throughout Park City.

I’ve been asked to describe a typical day at Sundance without giving away too much about the wonderful titles we’re now chasing for EIFF. This is no easy task, not least because I want to shout out loud about some of the great films I saw there - but that would be telling, and I’d have to kill you afterwards! On average I see five films a day when I’m there, which means very little time for formal meetings, although this year I managed to make time for a “Meet the Programmers” event with some other International Film Festivals where we advised the Sundance Documentary Lab participants about our own individual festivals.

Most mornings at Sundance start with a 9am screening of a competition title at the Eccles Theatre, part of a school campus, five minutes walk from the Festival’s HQ in the Park City Marriot. These particular screenings are open to Industry pass holders as well as the ticket buying public and it’s always so gratifying to see how popular the films are even at this early hour. There’s usually a Q&A afterwards but sadly I have to miss those in order to rush to my next screening, usually at the Holiday Village Theatre which hosts many of the Press & Industry screenings.

Now this all sounds very straightforward, but at Sundance, as with many film festivals, it’s all about the queues! Understandably, it’s a hugely popular festival, which means standing in line for around an hour (90 minutes in the earlier part of the festival), in, what can only be described as a giant cowshed. I’ve become very fond of that cowshed, not least because it’s where you meet some of the friendliest people on the international film scene. In fact, at Sundance you will exchange more business cards than at any other festival on the circuit, and that’s largely down to that giant cowshed. So those lucky few who purchase the “Industry Express Pass” guaranteeing you access and relieving you of the need to stand in line – you might be missing out!

Film number two ends, and guess what… back to the cowshed for the next one… and repeat the pattern four or five times until a Midnight screening, usually at the Library Theatre or the lovely Egyptian Theatre on Main Street. These late screenings are often where I see some of the best and scariest US genre titles on offer anywhere. For a geek like me, this is of course a good thing, but it can result in a somewhat alarming journey back to the apartment, which for me, ends with a 10 minute walk in the pitch dark along the side of the motorway (or should I say freeway?). I think I aged ten years during that walk home after a Sundance screening of the brilliant VHS two years ago, but it is of course all worth it!

All of this leaves very little time to eat; lunch is consumed in a cinema seat at a Press & Industry screening, and dinner happens only occasionally. Having travelled that far to see films, I’d rather be in a cinema than in a café or a restaurant, so I don’t mind too much. That said, I was lucky enough to attend a dinner hosted by the lovely Colin Needham, Founder and CEO of Industry bible IMDB where I met some other Festival directors, many of whom I hope to coax over to Edinburgh sometime soon.

So, 33 films under my belt in 8 days of frantic film viewing, and it’s back home for a week spent furiously inviting all those brilliant films, before starting all over again at the fantastic Berlin Film Festival and European Film Market… of which, more later…

Ever wondered how much EIFF and Sundance have in common? Check out our recent 5 in 5!


Bookmark and Share
Diane first started working at Filmhouse/EIFF in 1986 while studying for her degree in Photography at Edinburgh Napier University. Since then she has held a variety of jobs including Marketing Officer with Filmhouse, Exhibition Curator with Edinburgh College of Art and General Manager of Edinburgh's Cameo Cinema. She has been employed in her current role since 2006.


Login or Register to post a comment

  • Jesse benato Friday 7th February, 2014 / 19:09 GMT

    Ha! i was about to submit my film thanxs for the post and saving me that submission fee. Good to know that EIFF is WSD ( whatever Sundance does) - For a moment there I thought you guys were a fest that picked films from submissions.
  • Wednesday 19th March, 2014 / 13:19 GMT

    Hi Jessie, we are surprised if you feel like we copy whatever Sundance does, but just to be clear, EIFF screens the best work from a vast range of international Film Festivals and markets, of which Sundance is only one. We also rely heavily on around 3,000 submitted films each year, and could not put on a successful festival without those. Our dedicated programming team visit other festivals in case there are any hidden gems which we feel excited about enough to bring to Edinburgh and share with our international audience.

    We recently published a blog describing the process our submissions viewers take, and you may find it to be an interesting read. To view the submission blog, please visit www.edfilmfest.org.uk/blog/2014/02/the-day-the-submissions-viewer-sat-still