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volunteering at sundance film festival, year two (2020)

couldnt resist, had to go back to SFF in utah!

snow

After enjoying the volunteering experience at Sundance Film Festival so much in 2019, and being invited back (as an alumni) which made the application process second time around much easier, I decided I was going to volunteer again in 2020.

Strange really as initially I did not like the festival at all, too busy, too expensive, too big, and defo too far away lol ;)
But over the time I was there I really did come to love it, and I thoroughly enjoyed being part of it as a volunteer.
I always say to people that the decision to volunteer was genius, even though I didnt know it at the time, it was defo one of the best decisions I've ever made! (And I've now volunteered at other English speaking festivals on the back of it).

Sundance is extremely well organised, has very high quality venues, and some nice perks - ASCAP Music Lounge, Chase Sapphire Lounge on Main, various pop-ups, film chats, panels, lots of giveaways...and of course some great films too.

I hadnt spotted Robert Redford either, so reason enough to go back!

Once I'd made the decision to go again, I knew that I would have to make some changes to how I organised it.
Mostly financial ones.

Other things to bear in mind: Park City is high up, so its easy to feel tired, and the air is very drying to the skin. I took thermals and wore them every day, even inside it gets cold. I have taken snow boots each time, but never worn them, I just wear waterproof trainers. I wear jeans, and most of the other vols do too. You need a hat and gloves. I keep the jacket on most of the time as it identifies you as a vol which helps. You have to keep drinking water, and eating to stop from feeling ill. Utah Health (one of the partners) offered massages in 2020, which was great, they came to the Eccles Centre so it was easy to take advantage, and they provided lots of snacks and fresh fruit too.

LAST YEAR 2019 (year one of volunteering):

I had decided half way through 2018 that Sundance was one of the film festivals I really needed to get to in my lifetime.
I'd been going to some in Europe, Venice, Cannes, and in the UK, London, Sundance London, Raindance, Human Rights Watch, Polish, but never one so big, or far away as Sundance.
It was always a dream of mine to get there, and hopefully see Robert Redford too.

I checked out the website (www.sundance.org) and joined the Institute which meant I would get priority booking for tickets once they were released. I found accommodation via airbnb, and a good flight, with KLM, and that was that.
I'd booked.
I was going to Sundance 2019 :)

Later in the year, maybe a few months after that, I thought volunteering might be nice as I was going by myself and wondered if I would feel lonely being so far from home at such a huge festival.
I checked out the website for volunteering and it seemed pretty easy to apply.
I didnt hear anything for ages and then got an email saying I had been accepted.
You can choose various roles (all listed on the website) and I'd chosen 'Theatre Team' (inside).
They send you a contract to sign, and there are various training modules you have to complete, but all in all its a fairly painless process.
Some of the other tasks available are traffic control, outside tasks, ticket office, HQ staff, shop staff and there are more managerial roles available.
MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR FOR VOLUNTEERS FROM OVERSEAS IS THAT THEY HAVE TO HAVE SECURED ACCOMMODATION PRIOR TO APPLYING.

The accommodation I had booked was in Park City Itself, which is where the main festival is held (there are some venues in Salt Lake City too, but these are secondary, I dont think they have premieres down there?).
The airbnb I booked was very expensive, although it was a lovely place, but it was pretty convenient for getting to my workplace and into town using Uber or Lyft.
I had a bedroom/sitting room, and a private bathroom which was located in the basement of a large family house near the golf club.

I Flew with KLM via Amsterdam, which meant I did not have to swop planes in the US (which I had heard was tricksy).

When tickets were released I bought lots of them for films I wanted to see because I didn’t understand the vol benefits at all!
It also wasnt clear to me whether I would see any films whilst I was on shift.
Every film cost $25.00 flat rate.

I pre-booked a transfer from the airport, as I decided I didn’t want to rely on Uber or Lyft, and I'd heard horror stories about bad weather and huge price increases at certain times of the day, it was expensive but very good and reliable, Hall Transfers. (www.hallutah.com)

I opted to be a sign up volunteer, which basically means you can choose all your own shifts, there is a min of 32 hours, which is three shifts.
I volunteered for the min three shifts.
My thinking on this was that I wanted to enjoy the festival, as well as volunteer, and as I had no idea what the vol experience would be like, didnt want to over commit to it.
I had been assigned to the Eccles Theatre Team.
All shifts are booked via an app called shiftboard, its pretty easy to download and use and Sundance give training on how to use it, plus a few practice days before it goes live.
Its possible to pick up shifts and drop them to suit, but there is a cut off date for making changes. (After which you have to contact your vol coordinator).

COSTS 2019:

Flight: £762.10
Accommodation: £1067.89
Tickets: $351
Transfers: $109 (each way)
Esta: $14 (neecessary for travel to US, valid for two years)
Institute Membership: $65 (you dont need to be a member of the institute, but I like to support it)

THIS YEAR 2020 (year two of volunteering):

Due to the costs being so high last year, one of the reasons I thought I would only volunteer once, I decided to stay in Salt Lake City instead of Park City this time.
Lots of people had told me it was an interesting place, and its not that far from SLC to PC so I reckoned getting up and down would be easy, and cheap.
I found a nice little airbnb, centrally located, which was less than half the cost of the place in Park City, (I had also decided to spend one less day overall on the trip, to save some extra money, and to be honest I was totally exhausted last time after a week of getting up early to see films, and then volunteering until midnight!).

Booked a flight with American Airlines, via Dallas, as this was the best price, and the most convenient times.

I only bought one ticket for a film (documentary) because I really didn’t want to miss it, but decided to chance the rest and see things using my vol tickets, and others films/documentaries while working.

I didn’t book a transfer from airport to airbnb, decided to book a taxi once I arrived as everyone told me Uber and Lyft worked perfectly.

I volunteered for four shifts, after much thinking on this issue I decided to do one more shift than last year because I had enjoyed it so much, and the benefits of working at the Festival out-weigh not working.
I decided that volunteering was the point of the trip essentially.

As I had worked at Eccles and liked it, I reapplied to work there again, and got it.
I reapplied as a sign up vol too.
(There are different types of vol: full fest, half fest, sign up, but sign up is the most flexible and suited me).

These changes, of accommodation, airline and not buying film tickets, or booking a transfer, halved the price of the trip!

COSTS 2020:

Flight: £393.22
Accommodation: £385.00
Esta: $14
Sundance M'ship: $65
Film tickets: $27 (price had gone up by $2)
Transfers: $17.50 (inbound), $18.54 (outbound)

TRAVEL:

I was very impressed with American Airlines and had a very good journey. The flight times were reasonable, and the stopover time was not too long.
In fact on the big plane, first leg, I had a lot of space to myself which was a bonus.
Downside was that as soon as we took off, in daylight, they made everyone put their blinds down, which I didnt really want to do, but I had to.
Not sure why they did that either as I would have thought helpful to try to keep to normal hours, it was wierd sitting in darkness straight away as I wasnt tired, but after the meal they defo wanted everyone to sleep...
It was also true - as I had been told by others - that it was super stressful having to go through customs at Dallas, first entry point into the US, and then back in again to get on the second plane, but I made it.
I'm not sure if I would do this again though (prices would dictate this for a third trip I guess), but I would prefer to change planes in Europe tbh, less hassle and stress.

JOURNEY:

I departed on Saturday the 25th January and arrived in the evening, whole day in the air basically.
No delays and pretty relaxed.
Once I arrived at SLC it was only a short taxi ride to my airbnb. Used Lyft and it cost $17.50 (excl tip).
Note: I had Uber and Lyft apps on my phone and always checked both for every trip, to get the best price. It did seem to fluctuate a lot for some reason?
Airbnb was great, small basement flat, but quite bright, sitting room, open plan kitchen, small bathroom (with shower) and a bedroom.
Nicely decorated and warm :)
No time to go anywhere (like up to Park City to get sorted), so unpacking and bed, ready for volunteering the next day.

VOLUNTEERING:

Sunday 26th was my first vol shift at Eccles.
I think Eccles is one of the best places to volunteer at Sundance. People tend to return to the same place each year, so there is a real sense of comraderie and thats a big incentive to return to the festival and the same theatre, it is like a big family.
Other favourite theatres from last year were the Park City Library and the Temple Theatre, but Eccles was my top choice.
I also opted to do late shifts (4-12am) rather than early (8-4pm) ones again as this suited me, and was more fun.

First up was trying to work out how to get from SLC to Park City via public transport.
I had tried to do this from home also, and had asked my airbnb host, but there wasnt much info.
Seems there are just a few buses up in the am, and another few back early eve. Not helpful for me (see timetable below).

Buses from SLC to PC: (have to change at Kimball Junction)
5.14, 6.17, 7.29, 8.38 / 13.41, 16.01 (last bus up)
Buses from Kimball Junction to SLC (KJ is the last place you can get the free PC buses to)
6.11, 7.14, 8.27, 9.35 / 14.42, 17.08, 18.08, 19.22 (last bus down)
Journeys varied from 50mins to 1.15hours and cost $9 one way (www.greyhound.com)

I found out that there was a whatsapp group for car sharing, which I did use, it was stressful, but it saved me some money!
There were quite a lot of people in SLC going to PC each day and mostly it worked well, although sometimes as I said it was stressful trying to liaise with people you didnt know and try to find them late at night etc etc.
I didnt have any cash so had to keep making paypal payments to people!

FIRST MORNING:

Went for a quick walk in SLC and found a supermarket where I got some snacks to keep with me in case no time for eating, or long queues in the bars and restaurants in PC (learnt this the hard way last time!!).
Booked a Lyft on the app and got up to PC by lunchtime.
Cost was $46.49 (expensive).
Trip from SLC to PC takes about three quarters of an hour, mostly on the freeway, but as you get nearer to PC there is more traffic and it can take quite a while.

As Park City is so busy, and is a relatively small place, it is overrun by the festival.
The first week of Sundance is manic and there are long lines for everything, it does ease off for the second week tho.
I didnt eat for the first few days in 2019 because there were such long queues in the cafes and I was always trying to get into line for a film, or to work.
As tickets are not allocated seating, there is a very convoluted system to getting in to each film you have booked.
There are many lines of people at Sundance for every showing. It is advised to be there 1 hour in advance for each film - and queuing is just part of film festival life!
Eventually I did find the Freshmarket, a kind of wholefoods type store, absolutely massive, where they sold pretty much everything, and I stocked up on protein bars and nuts etc. Its open all day, and closes pretty late too, there is a coffee bar and pharmacy too.

On arrival in PC I got dropped off at the Festival HQ so that I could register, and collect my volunteer pack.
You need photo id to collect your vol pack.
(I also went to the ticket office on Main Street to collect the one ticket I'd bought online).

Sundance Volunteers are treated very well indeed and each one receives:
A KENNETH COLE designer jacket, reversible, to wear during the festival and take home (there is a different one each year!).
A Sundance volunteer credential which gets you access into lots of non film venues during the festival, plus its a good place to keep volunteer tickets and other things.
For every four hours worked you get a film ticket. So I got 8 this year.
A lovely warm hat (last year was gloves).
A reusable water bottle.
And some other goodies, coffee and snacks.

Also every volunteer's name is printed into the souvenir booklet for the festival :)

There is free transport from all film venues around PC. It's pretty regular but can be busy (so bear in mind not to leave yourself short of time getting to films, or work). There are vols to help at every place, so they can give you the best advice about how to get around.

VOL SHIFTS 2020:

26th Jan - 4-12.15am - Usher
27th Jan - 4.12.15am - Usher
28th Jan - 4-12am - Vol Room
29th Jan - 4-12am - Access Control

FILMS ON SHIFT:

26th Jan - Wendy, The Nest, Downhill
27th Jan - The Father, Nine Days, The Last Thing He Wanted
28th Jan - Minari, Lost Girls, Sergio
29th Jan - Never Rarely Sometimes Never, Blast Beat, Charm City Kings

There is always a film running when the shift swops, so I saw half of Wendy and The Father.
I didnt see any films when I was on vol room duty, and you can go in after everyone is seated when you are on access control.

Tasks as a vol are assigned by the vol co-ordinators, you dont have control of what you do.

As you can see first two days I was an usher, on the left hand side of the main auditorium ground floor, this is a great job.
Helping people to find their seats (all unallocated), filling the theatre to capacity as there are so many kinds of ticket holders at Sundance, and there is a specific way of loading the theatre so that every seat is filled, lighting the way for people leaving once the film has started, watching for disturbances etc, then saying goodbye at the end before cleaning for the next premiere. Its busy but great.

Vol room duty is basically sitting in a corrider outside the vol room, where everyone leaves all their personal possessions when working, and making sure no one who isnt supposed to be down there is.
Its quite a nice peaceful duty, basically sitting quietly all shift with one guy who is there to manage the talent.
The main upside is seeing the talent for the premieres up close and personal cos the green room is right next door and the entry to the stage area is also very close.
I saw the talent for LOST GIRLS, and SERGIO when I was doing this duty, and I saw AMY REDFORD! Getting closer to Bob every year ;)

Access Control/Balloting is scanning tickets and balloting is handing out (and later collecting) ballots for each film - voting system for audience awards.
Access Control is the most fraught as people are desperate to get inside (even though the theatre is massive) and all come at you at once, but its a real buzz!

VOLUNTEER APPRECIATION DAY (29th Jan):

Sundance make a huge deal about their volunteers and have a special day of appreciation! They run a VT before every film about the vols and on vol appreciation day they go all out, with clapping, going up onto the stage and general whooping - also everyone does come up to you all the time when you are wearing the vol jacket and asks questions and thanks you :) I really like it to be honest.
I also always work on vol appreciation day as its more fun, there is a free vol party in some bar in PC (which I have not been to) but we get free pizza on shift and there is such a good vibe its nice to be actually volunteering on the day itself.

Once I'd done my four shifts (which I did on consequtive days this time) I had decided to have a day in SLC to explore and use some of my vol voucher for films in the venues down there. Didnt want to bother with the car share up to PC again.
It was nice to spend the day just mooching and I enjoyed seeing films and just being a participant for a day.
I actually thought it might be a good idea to volunteer at a SLC venue next time as this would deal with the difficulty of getting from SLC to PC every day, but I know I'd miss the buzz of being up there. (I really liked the Broadway Centre where I saw my films).
First year I decided I'd have a ski day as there are two resorts very close by, and even a lift in PC, but I never managed it in the end.
This time I didnt bother to try to ski, but its defo something that I might look at if I keep volunteering at Sundance

SUMMARY:

Thinking about the two trips it was very hard to say which one worked better.
I loved the chilled out feeling in SLC but felt a little distanced from the festival if I'm honest, and the stress of the car pooling and the expense of the daily taxi's was a downside for sure (despite the savings).
Not booking so many films also impacted the experience for me, as I definately didnt see as many as last year, but to be brutal there werent that many that I really wanted to see, last year there were so many I couldnt decide! Ups and downs of film festivals though, sometimes they just dont have anything that interesting to you...swings and roundabouts.

Perhaps the hardest thing for me was that I felt that the management of the Eccles this time was a little bit chaotic, and most other vols were saying this. I think they sometimes had too many vols on duty and therefore people didnt have enough to do, but they have to have more than they need because of the possible drop out rate. But, personally speaking it makes a huge difference to a vol if they are given clear instructions and know what they are doing versus not really being sure where they are needed. Sometimes it worked better than other times.

Will I go back again? I've defo been thinking about this a lot...

Pro's are that I will be invited again as an alumni, so will defo get Eccles if I want it.
I know how it works and that helps a lot with settling in and feeling at home.
Its a great festival to be a part of, its SUNDANCE for god's sake!
There is still a chance I will see Robert Redford if I go again :)

Cons are that I'm not sure where to stay now as both places have their ups and downs.
If there was a better transport system from SLC to PC I'd always choose SLC, but if not I think even though much more expensive its better to stay in PC.
Its a very long way to go if there arent many films that you want to see, its tiring and the jet lag always gets me.
It costs a lot is the major factor against going again I guess, but even writing that makes me feel sad, and I know that as the year goes by, especially this year, I'm probably going to feel like its a good idea again by the summer....

Best I can say is watch this space...I'm defo getting better at organising the trip, and it is really nice to be a part of something so special, so well respected and so well established as Sundance.

Maybe I should go for the triple? :)

Posted by spiderface 01:32 Archived in USA Tagged utah sundance parkcity sundancefilmfestival filmfestival saltlakecity Comments (0)

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