The view is breathtaking, on screen and outside

The Sundance Film Festival is an opportunity to mix hitting the slopes with seeing great independent cinema.
The Sundance Film Festival is an opportunity to mix hitting the slopes with seeing great independent cinema.
Sundance founder Robert Redford.

Sundance founder Robert Redford.

Standing in line looking up at some of the surrounding glittering ski runs while waiting to go into the cinema is one of the beautiful if slightly freezing moments one endures as a spectator at Sundance.

The idea of setting a film festival for independent movies in the middle of the ski season was the brainwave of Robert Redford.

“I love to ski,” says the star, who did a lot of his own skiing for the 1969 film, Downhill Racer, and who became disillusioned with big budget filmmaking at the same time. “One of the reasons for putting it here is so people could ski and look at movies. I thought that could be novel. I can't help but take a few runs during the festival but basically what I do is I open the festival and then help guide people to the point of it all. That eats up all my time and I don't have time to do anything else.”

Indeed the well-preserved 76-year-old, who also owns Zoom, a convivial, classy restaurant on Park City's Main Street, has his hands full. Still, what can Australians manage to achieve if they venture to the festival without an accreditation? The festival's artistic director John Cooper offers some advice.

Movie tickets: Stand in the wait list line for the early screenings and stick to the big cinemas. Everything repeats and movies become easier to get into as the festival progresses.

The Music Café: Last year this featured the likes of Rodriguez (whose movie Searching for Sugar Man is in cinemas here). Credentials are required first but then it's general admission.

Panel Discussions: Every morning around 10 am at The Filmmaker Lodge (550 Main St., 2nd Floor) there's a cinema café which offers audiences the opportunity to engage with filmmakers. One of last year's panels with Mark Duplass (Safety Not Guaranteed, Your Sister's Sister) looked at The Wide World of Wit. New Frontier : Showcases media installations, also panel discussions, at 1251 Kearns Blvd. This year includes the full dome experience Coral: Rekindling Venus by Australian installation artist Lynette Wallworth and it's produced by Sydney-based John Maynard (Sweetie).

Palace Cinemas general manager Nicolas Whatson has made seven buying trips to Sundance where he significantly picked up the Ryan Gosling star-making movies, Half Nelson (2006) and Blue Valentine (2010) for Australian distribution.

“Park City is almost like Santa's village during the festival,” he says. “It's the antithesis of Cannes and not just because of the weather. There are no billboards or outdoor advertising. There was a period [pre-GFC] where the festival was getting invaded by stealth marketing & corporate gifting tents for the likes of Paris Hilton, but they clamped right down on it. It's been less a thing in the last three to four years.”

The locals he says are “ridiculously friendly and helpful. You get the sense they love what the festival brings to their town. But if you're interested in doing some skiing, you can never under-estimate the steepness of the slopes. Industry types and even movie stars have come to grief.” In 2010 Bill Murray presented Get Low on crutches.

Whatson suggests a visit to the Salt Lake Temple to get a sense of Mormon culture in the region. Interestingly Utah becomes less Mormon every year with church members accounting for less than 60 per cent of the population while the state was 70 per cent in 1989.

The licensing laws for alcohol are particularly lax in Park City, though with restrictions preventing beverages above 3.2 per cent being sold at grocery and convenience stores, it's necessary to search out one of the few bottle shops in order to buy wine away from restaurants where it's expensive. Given that most visitors stay in condos with full kitchens, it's an idea to stock up on all goods upon arrival. (One stop tip : Right next to the Holiday Village cinemas on Park Avenue there's a huge Fresh Market supermarket, a T-Mobile shop and a bottle shop across the road.)

The Australian filmmaking brothers Joel and Nash Edgerton are regulars at the festival. Last year when Joel arrived to promote his starring role in the Australian feature Wish You Were Here, he couldn't wait to hit the slopes, while Nash, a director and stuntman, who had a short film, Bear, in the program and this year returns with The Captain, said one of his favourite haunts is The Crater, located 30 kilometres from Park City.

“The hot springs and caves are absolutely beautiful. You can even go snorkelling.” Indeed once inside, you can also take a paddleboard yoga class or just enjoy a therapeutic soak.

The dynamic Duplass, who will soon be seen in Australian cinemas with Joel Edgerton in Zero Dark Thirty, is one of the hallmarks of Sundance, having attended the festival nine times. Last year when Parker Posey fell ill, his heavily pregnant actress wife Katie Astleton took over co-hosting the awards ceremony and she did it with great aplomb. They have the place wired.

“There's a great restaurant called 350 Main Street that has the best fish in town and they are very good people over there,” he told me at their condo last year January. “The best food is at The Sky Lodge on Main Street [there's a panoramic rooftop bar, Sky Blue, and two newly opened restaurants, Table One, a high-end gastronomic experience, and Tavern, a gastro pub experience located in the historic Utah Coal & Lumber building.  

 Stay there if you have the money and if you don't go onto and find yourself a really cheap condo around Prospector Square because you can walk to everything from there. It's a good idea to go skiing because nobody's on the slopes during Sundance. If you're here during the summer take the lift up and do the alpine slide. I shot a movie here in the fall and I got to take the ski lifts up with no snow and do the big alpine slide down the mountain. That was really great. If you have kids go tubing at Jeremy Ranch, which we just did today and I watched my four-year-old daughter's face fly down the mountain at 30 miles an hour. It's very good stuff.” (Tubing is riding down a mountain or hill on an inflated piece of rubber.)

Park City Buses are free and run continuously throughout the festival, with volunteers at each stop to give directions. Once on the bus, anyone and everyone will talk to you if you have any doubts where you are going. Just leave plenty of time and don't aim to do too much.

Park city history

Historically Park City was a mining town until widespread mine closures in 1949 reduced it to a ghost town. Happily the old buildings were never torn down, which helped facilitate its reinvention as a ski resort and quaint centre for the arts in the 1980s and 1990s. Now one of the most affluent of American cities and supposedly a state unto itself, Park City is unlike the rest of Utah because of its high population of non-Mormons, many of whom are European. It sits at 2100 metres above sea level, while Salt Lake City, 50 kilometres down the road (and where the 2002 Winter Olympics were held), is situated at an altitude of about 1200 metres. So don't forget to drink plenty of water to counter the high altitude. Most importantly buy a good pair of snowboots and a very warm jacket. There's never any need to get fancy. You stick out like a sore thumb if you do.

Park City Historical Society & Museum 528 Main Street Park City, UT 84060 Phone (435) 649-7457

The Sky Lodge The only hotel on Main Street, The Sky Lodge boasts a panoramic rooftop bar, Sky Blue, as well as stunning cuisine in two newly opened restaurants. While the high-end Table One is the best restaurant in town, Tavern, a gastro pub experience is located in the historic Utah Coal & Lumber building.

Utah Olympic Park The site of 14 events during the 2002 Olympic Winter Games is now a year-round U.S. Olympic training facility. Free admission to watch athletes train, tour the Alf Engen Ski Museum or the 2002 Eccles Olympic Winter Games Museum.

Paddle Board Yoga at The Homestead Crater These are approximately one hour sessions. Rates: 2 people ($100 per person), 3 people ($75 per person), 4 people ($65 per person), 5 people or more ($55 per person). $10 additional charge per person for all weekend bookings.To book contact Julia Geisler at 415-695-4502, or

This story The view is breathtaking, on screen and outside first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.