We’re Back in Park City – The Sundance Film Festival Returns to Utah
by Alex Billington
January 20, 2023
It’s so wonderful to settle into a screening and hear the buzz in the air before a film starts. To listen to the applause and laughter and gasps during a premiere screening. After two years of online screenings thanks to the pandemic, the 2023 Sundance Film Festival has returned with an in-person event in Park City, Utah this January. This is my 17th year covering Sundance, starting way back in 2007, and I’m happy to be back. Yes, as always, there’s some generic frustrations with the festival (the local bus lines have changed, there’s tons of standstill traffic already, the screening queues are a mess) but overall, it’s exciting to see Sundance roaring back to life and bringing everyone together again to watch movies. It’s cliche to say, but the glory of film festivals really is the experience of everyone traveling from all around to sit together and watch films together, as one big audience, participating in the magic of watching movies. That excitement in the air, the conversations with people in line or people sitting next to you, is what this is all about. Onward to the films.
It’s always an honor to attend Sundance, especially for so many years. I’ve watched it grow and change and evolve. I’ve watched the theater venues change and reconfigure and update. Old venues are gone, new ones have popped up. There used to be a time when most films were screened as 35mm prints, now everything is digital. This year all the tickets are digital, too. No more paper printed tickets, so I can’t do my annual photo at the end of the fest. Everything is linked to my badge, and they just scan a QR code to let us in. Plenty has changed over the years – festival directors, programmers, publicists, and more. Most importantly, Sundance is still here. It’s still in Park City, it’s still showing films in the classic Egyptian theater. It still has that “this is where indie films come to be discovered” vibe. For 2023, Sundance has mentioned that the line-up this year is more about newcomers, and first-time filmmakers, and up-and-coming talent than it is big premieres with celebs that everyone knows already. And that’s fine with me, this is what the festival should be doing.
As for the films, well – you never know! There’s always that question of “what do you recommend, what is good this year?” Before the fest kicks off, I honestly have no idea! That’s also the best part about Sundance – you never know what will be good, or bad, or what’s worth seeing, or not. All of my picks on me schedule are for films that just sound interesting to me, whether it’s the plot description provided by the fest or because the cast or filmmaker grab my attention. I published my annual Top 10 most Anticipated list, but I’m excited to watch 30 or more films. Part of the usual festival experience is discovery. Some film that was not on my radar at all before the fest may suddenly be my top priority if other people start raving about it (usually on Twitter is where all the buzz begins). There’s other films that I’ve heard might be amazing, and I should get a ticket while I can – they are already sold out. Two examples: Magazine Dreams with Jonathan Majors, and Celine Song’s film Past Lives. I’m booked for both, and I can’t wait to head into these screenings soon.
I’ve been back to major festivals including Cannes and Venice throughout 2021 and 2022, but this is the first time Sundance has taken place as an in-person event in Park City since 2020. It’s cold and snowy, with gigantic piles of plowed snow taller than anyone lining all the streets and parking lots. The price to rent a condo is higher than ever. It’s harder than ever to get tickets to anything. But I’m here, I’m back. I couldn’t miss this triumphant return of the little indie festival that could. I’m here for the films, and for the people, and for all my friends, and to breath that fresh mountain air inbetween running to screenings every day for 10 days. It was nice to enjoy the festival from home for the last two years, but nothing beats being here with these filmmakers, with these audiences, watching all these new films debut on the big screen. And oh yes, I missed my favorite Mexican place – El Chubasco, the champion of tacos & burritos. I miss it all year long, and it keeps me fueled & happy day after day. I’m glad to bump into old friends, and make new ones as well.
Follow my updates and reviews from Sundance 2023 on my Letterboxd profile, or for more updates on my Twitter @firstshowing. I post thoughts & photos & more, along with reviews here on the site throughout the next 10 days. And I’m hoping I will be watching plenty of incredible, unforgettable films here in snowy Utah.