In a major change of pace, this year’s Sundance Film Festival will open with 19 films on its opening day, Thursday, January 18, including the first of the Shorts programs, all starting as early as noon Mountain Time. (In years past, a fraction of those films would start the event, kicking off in the evening.)

That’s a lot of movies, and it’s a reminder that for many industry folks this year, they can’t take that morning flight from Los Angeles into Salt Lake City on the first day and expect not to miss anything.

Because so many films are packed into that first day, the festival is also compressing all those movies, at least on the 18th, into a handful of Park City venues: the Eccles, the Egyptian, The Ray, the Library Center, and Prospector Square. Throughout the festival, attendees and press can also see movies at the Holiday Village Cinemas, the Redstone Cinemas multiplex outside of town, and The Park.

But in past years, the festival has made use of a few more venues around the Park City area, including the Park City Municipal Athletic & Recreation Center, better known as the racquetball court colloquially called the MARC, and the Temple, which is a synagogue also in Park City. A rep for the festival informs us those haven’t been in use since 2020, though this is only the second year in which Sundance is back in person.

Sundance also this year will no longer use the DoubleTree by Hilton, also known by its previous name The Yarrow, a hotel located about a 7-minute drive north of Main Street. This year, that venue will be used by Slamdance, the smaller specialty festival for first-time filmmakers that also takes place in Park City during the same time period as Sundance.

This year’s Sundance has a tighter, more curated program, featuring just over 80 films despite the record number of submissions. And a rep for the festival says the slimmed down lineup allowed them to think more responsibly about the venues and attendee experience. Further, all press and industry screenings can now easily be held at the Holiday Village Cinemas, whereas in past years a few P&I stragglers bled out to other venues.

Eugene Hernandez, the IndieWire founder and now the director of Sundance in his first official year with the festival, told the ScreenTalk podcast last week that simplifying its number of venues was a conscious choice.

“We honed our footprint in Salt Lake City. We honed the footprint in Park City to match the program size and to be a responsible organization in 2024 to do what was responsible fiscally and also keeping in mind the audience itself,” Hernandez said. “We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this.”

Eugene Hernandez, Guest, and James Israel at the IndieWire Chili Party, Presented by Stanley and SAG-AFTRA held at The Cabin on January 19, 2023 in Park City, Utah.
Eugene Hernandez, Guest, and James Israel at the IndieWire Chili Party, Presented by Stanley and SAG-AFTRA held at The Cabin on January 19, 2023 in Park City, UtahAnna Pocaro for IndieWire

Hernandez also said there are more screenings in Salt Lake, including at the Broadway, the Rose Wagner Center, and the Gateway multiplex complex. And the festival this year extended its Filmmaker Lodge on Main Street to continue throughout the whole festival rather than last year when it ran for just the first half. This allows local audiences especially to dive in after the first weekend and get a “road map for which films are really resonating.”

Among the Sundance regulars we talked with in advance of the festival, one was unsure how he’d squeeze in so many movies in that first weekend, especially when some of the sales titles will not be made available online. Another was non-plussed by losing out on smaller venues like the Yarrow and MARC, as he’s more likely to spend his time camped out at the Eccles and Library anyway.

But there’s little story as to how Slamdance wound up with the Yarrow in the first place. Slamdance once called the Yarrow its home when it was founded 30 years ago as a haven for all the filmmakers who didn’t get into Sundance. Co-founder and president Peter Baxter told IndieWire they called and were told it was available to rent, simple as that. He said he’d heard earlier in the summer there could be more venues in Park City this year than normal, but that may have changed in the months since.

“We haven’t really faced any challenges in organizing our own permits for Slamdance,” Baxter said. “Generally, we’re welcomed in Park City and by Park City itself. We value that, and that’s been a very important part of our success.”

Financial challenges have hit all festivals, but Baxter says they’ve been in a fortunate position in the last 12 months and have even seen significant growth in sales of festival passes. The venue is fully accessible, as well, which Baxter says was also important to their growth.

Sundance and Slamdance aren’t exactly sister festivals, but they do have shared values and shared filmmakers. Sundance this year is honoring Christopher Nolan with an award, and his debut feature “Following” made its premiere at Slamdance. By being at the Yarrow this year, Baxter sees it as a win-win for filmmakers and attendees who may be more willing to bounce from place to place.

“Anything that can help integrate and to include all audiences at Park City, whether it be Sundance or Slamdance, I think is really positive for independent film,” Baxter said. “We’re in a very good position for being right in the middle of other festival venues that Sundance has. I see this as being very positive for both festivals and more important for independent cinema on the whole.”

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