By: Gibson Johns
The first weekend at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival was, as always, full of endless events, parties, screenings, panels and casual celebrity sightings. But, with each new year, comes a new group of big names that descend upon Main Street in quaint, snowy Park City, Utah, to take part in all the fun — including myself. Well, I’m not a “big name,” but it was my first time there.
I flew out to Sundance this year with Stella Artois to take part in the festivities. Between the cast parties, screenings and the Chelsea Handler-organized Women’s March on Main, the first three days at the festival were action-packed. And, luckily for you, I took notes on everything I experienced.
Below you’ll find a day-by-day breakdown of every celebrity I saw, every event I went to and every notable thing I heard during my first time at the iconic Sundance Film Festival.
Among those morsels of information? I found out the unexpected items Ray Romano keeps in his pocket, what songs Mary J. Blige likes to turn up to, which “long shot” film Nigel Barker is working on and the major “strategic decision” Matt Damon made nine years ago, among many other random tidbits of information that you didn’t realize you wanted to know.
DAY ONE: Friday, Jan. 20
While waiting at baggage claim 6 following my 7 a.m. flight from JFK to Salt Lake City, a gaggle of fanboys descended upon a bleach blonde Pom Klementieff, who dutifully signed their multiple printouts of her. Klementieff was at Sundance to support her film “Ingrid Goes West” (more on this later), and she’s sure to shoot to fame when her decidedly non-indie film, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” comes out later this year.
After checking into the Newpark Resort and Hotel, I shuttled into town where I caught the second half of Deadline’s “The Big Sick” panel at the Stella Artois Filmmaker Lounge on Main Street. Kumail Nanjiani, Emily Gorden, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano and producers Judd Apatow and Barry Mendel took part in the lively chat about their film, which eventually sold to Amazon Studios for $12 million. One thing I learned during the panel? That Romano keeps a small bottle of “emergency Ativan” and “small rosary beads” in his front pocket — the more you know!
Following the event, the crowd munched on free pastries and coffee while some members of the panel, like Kazan and Apatow, scarfed down to-go salads in the roped off VIP area. It quickly became clear to me that despite being riddled with celebrities, Sundance isn’t truly about the glitz and the glam and aprés ski: It really is about the films, and these stars were there to support those films.
After stopping into various pop-ups that lined Main Street, like SundanceTV, YouTube and AT&T presents Nobu (yes, you read that correctly), I made my way to a media dinner hosted by Stella Artois at Robert Redford’s famed Park City restaurant, Zoom, where we ate truffle mac and cheese and wood grilled filet. When at Sundance, right?
We finished off the night at the premiere cast party for “Ingrid Goes West” back at the Stella Artois Filmmaker Lounge. Cast members Aubrey Plaza, O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Billy Magnussen mingled with the crowd outside of VIP. Cast members Elizabeth Olsen and Wyatt Russell didn’t attend, though other actors like Lauren Weedman (“Looking”) and Jon Hamm (“Mad Men”) also stopped by. I didn’t personally see Hamm, but I heard he strolled in alone later in the night.
DAY TWO: Saturday, Jan. 21
Another thing I learned about Sundance this past weekend? There are screenings at all times of the day; midnight and early morning showings may not be commonplace at your local movie theater, but they’re certainly fair game in Park City. I woke up at the crack of dawn to head to a screening of “Ingrid Goes West” at 8:30 a.m. at the Prospector Square Theater.
The film follows Aubrey Plaza’s Ingrid Thorburn, a troubled and lonely young women, in the months after the death of her mother. Ingrid becomes obsessed with Elizabeth Olsen’s seemingly perfect (spoiler alert: she’s not!) Taylor Sloane, an Instagram celebrity living in Venice Beach with her husband (Wyatt Russell). The film is a dark comedy that serves as a warning to society about our obsession with social media and our need for approval and gratification from others. It ended up selling to Neon.
After the screening, I made my way into town to catch the end of the March on Main, an offshoot of the Women’s March on Washington organized by Chelsea Handler. It was a busy, inspiring scene on Main Street, where I saw signs that said things like “Compassion is not weakness,” “We were served lemons, but we’ll make lemonade” (Beyoncé reference, y’all!) and “Keep your tiny hands off my rights,” among many other clever slogans. Though I missed any sightings of Handler or Charlize Theron, who also helped lead the march, I did spy Paul Sparks (“House of Cards”) taking in the action and brothers Mark and Jay Duplass (“Transparent”) sipping beers inside Collie’s.
I then made my way back to the Stella Artois FIlmmaker Lounge for the “Roxanne, Roxanne” Deadline panel, which featured hip-hop legend Roxanne Shanté, newcomer Chanté Adams, director Michael Larnell and producers Nina Yang Bongiovi and Mimi Valdes for an amazing, celebratory event. My favorite quote from the panel for the female-driven film was when Shanté said, “A lot of people say that we, as women, are too emotional, but it was the emotions that made this [film] possible.”
In between events, I wandered in and out of the pop-ups on Main Street, and spotted Olivia Culpo conducting an interview on a snowy street corner.
Next up was Stella Artois’ marquee event of the weekend: An intimate luncheon hosted by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson and Water.org co-founders Matt Damon and Gary White. The inspiring discussion allowed Damon and White to explain the mission behind their organization, which will strive to provide long-term, clean water to 3.5 million more people around the world by 2020. The event celebrated Stella Artois’ Buy A Lady A Drink campaign, which focuses on helping women in developing countries gain easier access to clean water in conjunction with Water.org. Kevin Bacon was there to support the cause.
After Bacon said hi to the guys, I interviewed Damon and White about the initiative as they sipped Stella Artois from specialty chalices. Damon told me, among other things, that he made a “strategic decision” nine years ago to partner with White and bring his charity efforts to fruition.
On our way to grab some pizza at Maxwell’s for dinner, we spotted Jason Segel going to dinner with a lady friend.
Later that evening, Mary J. Blige, Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund and more from the cast of “Mudbound” hit up the premiere party for their acclaimed film, directed by Dee Rees, at the Stella Artois Filmmaker Lounge. DJ D-Nice spun throwback jams — including Blige’s hits like “Family Affair” — while Mulligan and Blige mingled, sipped on cocktails and ate out of mini Chinese food containers in VIP. At one point, Blige snuck out onto the main dance floor undetected by partygoers to dance more freely. She was clearly having an amazing time letting loose in celebration of her film.
DAY THREE: Sunday, Jan. 22
I started my last full day at Sundance by heading to the Park City Library for a screening of “Mudbound,” which had a massive line of people hoping to get into the theater off of the waitlist. Clearly, the audience had already heard great things about the film after its premiere the night before. Director Ava Duvernay (“Selma”) sat in the second row for the second-ever screening of the film, which tells the story of two families living in rural Mississippi towards the end of World War II and their struggle with racism following the devastating war.
The emotional, gripping, fearless film captivated the eager audience and garnered a massive standing ovation for director Dee Rees when she stepped out for the post-film Q&A with the “Mudbound” cast.
Next, I booked it to Chase Sapphire on Main, where I talked to famed fashion photographer, filmmaker and former “America’s Next Top Model” judge, Nigel Barker, about his experiences at Sundance over the years. He told me he’s working on a “long shot” feature film (his first!) about David Mixner, a gay rights activist.
When walking up Main, I walked past Logan Lerman (“The Perks of Being A Wallflower”), who looked to be in a hurry. After catching part of Deadline’s Women in Film panel, which featured a slew of high-profile female producers and directors, I took a break from the action to head out into the surrounding mountains by going snowmobiling. Let’s just say that I definitely need to do it again.
After grabbing dinner at The Eating Establishment, where we dined next to Rob Morgan (“Mudbound”) and Arturo Castro (“Broad City”), we headed to one final party at the Stella Artois Filmmaker Lounge for the premiere of “Lemon.” Judy Greer (“Lemon,” “13 Going On 30”), Shiri Appleby (“UnREAL”), Diego Boneta (“Scream Queens”) and Clea DuVall (“Veep”) were all in attendance.
Following a full, event-packed weekend in Park City, it became clear to me why Sundance is such a beloved festival in the movie world. The low-key atmosphere full of massive celebrities and future stars alike makes for one of the more unique experience one can have — not to mention the fact that you’re surrounded by snow and mountains and quaint architecture everywhere you go. Though it can logistically be a nightmare at times, Sundance makes you realize that everyone there simply just loves films, not matter how small they are. I can’t wait to go back.