Sundancing at Home

As the 2021 film festival season kicks off, Sundance Film Festival alumni and this year’s newcomers share their best tips for at-home festival attendance.

With contributions from Joe Talbot, Aneesh Chaganty, Ekwa Msangi, Heidi Ewing, Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine, Levan Akin, Max Barbakow, Jim Cummings, Sara Hirner and Rosemary Vasquez-Brown, Kentucker Audley and Albert Birney, Alexis Gambis and the Letterboxd Sundance team.

While it’s a small relief not to have to share a bunkbed with Gary from Australia, and go trudging up those Park City slopes in chunky ol’ snow boots, it’s still a challenge to create the ambience that the world premiere of a brilliant new indie film deserves. So, as well as creating a new, official Letterboxd festival hub (Festiville—give it a follow to receive festival updates in your main activity feed), we’ve also called in some friends to help us overcome the barrier of a lonely room, a smaller screen and a too-familiar couch.

At home, you can sit as close to the screen as you can bear. (Paddington, 2014.)
At home, you can sit as close to the screen as you can bear. (Paddington, 2014.)

Bring the mountain to you

How best to recreate the specific feeling of trying not to break your neck while running across the icy carpark between the Doubletree and the Holiday Village 4 during a tight turnaround? Letterboxd’s West Coast editor Dominic Corry advises getting into the Park City swing of things right from breakfast: “Place a headshot next to your coffee machine to replicate the experience of bumping into an A-lister at the Starbucks in Fresh Market”.

Before your first screening of the day, say Boys State directors Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine (Sundance 2020), “Stand outside in the cold for sixty minutes before viewing the film, then watch the film while wearing a very heavy parka, and realize you’re very hot twenty minutes into the movie and have to wrestle your parka off whilst not disturbing your fellow viewers.”

Or, don’t even bother trying to remove those layers, says And Then We Danced writer-director Levan Akin (Sundance 2020): “Recreate the sweat-soaked sensation I had by dressing in thermal long johns to outsmart the cold, only to sit through screenings in a pool of your own sweat. Rookie mistake!”

Between screenings, you have a couple of options. “Hit that StairMaster between virtual engagements to simulate the high mountain altitude,” advises Palm Springs director Max Barbakow (Sundance 2020), ”and don’t forget that chlorophyll to catch your wind!”

Kentucker Audley and Albert Birney, writers and directors of Strawberry Mansion (Sundance 2021) have an alternate suggestion: “After a screening, we recommend turning off the heat in your home, getting into your bathtub (imagining it’s a hot tub), and once it’s nice and freezing in your house, get out of the tub with wet feet, step directly into your snow boats and race to the nearest towel, which for some reason is nowhere near you. Then watch another movie and repeat the process.” Seems eerily legit.

There’s no corkage charged for BYO in the home cinema. (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, 2008.)
There’s no corkage charged for BYO in the home cinema. (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, 2008.)

Creating those creature comforts

For those of you who have long since accepted that we’re on the sofa rather than the slopes this Sundance, the trick is to make home as inviting as possible, despite its being far too familiar these days. That could mean moving the screen from its usual spot. Heidi Ewing, writer and director of I Carry You With Me (Sundance 2020) has a three-step plan: “1. Carmel-corn 2. Bathtub with bubbles 3. Play it loud—bathroom-tile acoustics will make it all feel bigger and boomier. That’s my sage advice.”

“Definitely co-sign the bathtub!” agrees Letterboxd’s London correspondent Ella Kemp. “And I’d also suggest watching the midnight-leaning stuff—big horror, big genre, big WTF—first thing in the morning, if you can. I do not have the same energy late at night in my own at home as I do with a sold-out crowd.”

Expose your folks to a whole new world—make them watch Midnight category films with you over breakfast. (Good Morning, お早よう, 1959.)
Expose your folks to a whole new world—make them watch Midnight category films with you over breakfast. (Good Morning, お早よう, 1959.)

Indeed, energy for film festivals is a thing whether you’re an in-person or satellite viewer—this applies to mental energy, too. “If you’re ever stressed or tired, watch a documentary to reset yourself,” says Jim Cummings, writer and director, Thunder Road short (Grand Jury winner, Sundance 2016), producer, Beast Beast (Sundance 2020).

And, given it’s a seven-day-long haul, feel free to throw cooking plans out the window and follow the Park City diet, in which you “eat nothing but finger foods for the duration of the festival,” according to Moss and McBaine. Or, as Ekwa Msangi, writer-director of Farewell Amor (Sundance 2020) recommends, “get some deliciously flavored popcorn and a hot drink for afterwards!”

Another at-home tip from Corry: “Don’t turn the lights on when you get up to go to the bathroom mid-movie, so as to recreate the sensation of your eyes struggling to adjust to the light in the restroom.”

Mac ’n’ cheese and a cold one for the last viewing of the day. (Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood, 2019.)
Mac ’n’ cheese and a cold one for the last viewing of the day. (Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood, 2019.)

Hell is other people (but animals are cool)

Not all of us live alone, and not all of us live with film lovers. Company is welcome, interruptions are to be expected, but do set some boundaries and decide what you will and won’t compromise on. “If you’ve got to bargain with roommates and family members for your turn to use the TV, be intentional about sound!” advises Letterboxd contributor, Selome Hailu. “Don’t compromise on music documentaries or well-scored horror, but rom-com dialogue might still sound okay with your laptop speaker.”

Housemates not human? That’s no problem for Alexis Gambis, writer, director and co-editor, Son of Monarchs (Sundance 2021): “Make room for your pets, let them be the film critics this time around.”

Importantly, says Cummings, “Be kind to everyone.” Whether you’re at a satellite screening, joining a festival event online or talking about the films on your social channels, “everyone is here to watch crazy weird movies. Remind yourself that it’s all about weird cinema and the creators. Watch movies!”

“And definitely stay for the Q&As,” say Moss and McBaine. “Always incredible.”

Director Dorothy Arzner and star Clara Bow are dressed to impress. (The Wild Party, 1929.)
Director Dorothy Arzner and star Clara Bow are dressed to impress. (The Wild Party, 1929.)

Watch the premieres as their makers intended

Look, filmmakers know what they’re up against in 2021, but it doesn’t stop them dreaming big when it comes to how we see their films for the first time. Sara Hirner and Rosemary Vasquez-Brown, directors of the Sundance 2021 short GNT, have put some thought into this:

“We demand that GNT be viewed in one of two very specific ways, and since we have no control over ourselves or the world at large, we urge you to at least pay us this small kindness!

Option A: You shall view GNT at 3:00am, sans pants, with two-day-old pizza and your laptop perched on your titties.

Option B: You shall dress in your finest garb, slather your face in makeup (please consult the swaths of teenage beauty gurus if you’re unsure on how to accomplish this task), and adorn yourself in your highest heels. These must all be the same color (tone variations will be accepted). Crack open your cheapest available sparkling wine and get to it. We hope you enjoy the show.”

For those whose Sundance dress code extends only to bed-wear, Msangi pleads: “If you’re staying in your pajamas, at least put on a cool beanie to spice things up!”

Sharing is caring. (Shithouse, 2020.)
Sharing is caring. (Shithouse, 2020.)

Tweets, or it didn’t happen

Finally, and most essentially, Aneesh Chaganty, writer and director of Searching (Sundance 2018), declares: “It’s not a Sundance hit without insane amounts of buzz. If you like it, tell everyone you know.”

After all, it’s what we’re here for… isn’t it? The last word goes to Joe Talbot, co-writer and director of The Last Black Man in San Francisco (Sundance 2019): “Since so many people at Sundance like to say that, between all the meetings and panels, they just haven’t had a chance to see any movies, let 2021 be the year that if you haven’t seen the movies, you admit it’s because you just don’t like movies.” Boom.


The Sundance Film Festival runs from January 28 to February 23. Thanks to all the filmmakers for advice, and good luck to the 2021 festival fam!

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