• Ana Acosta

Sundance Film Festival - The Five Ws and One H

Everything you always wanted to know but were afraid to ask

It’s no secret that we enjoy planning unconventional holidays, and looking for opportunities to volunteer while we’re traveling abroad has helped us turn our passion into a reality.

The 2019 Sundance Film Festival came to an end last week and if you’re thinking about going next year, it seems like the perfect excuse to share what Ana learned when she attended the festival in 2018.


The historic Egyptian Theatre, located at 328 Main Street

The Sundance Film Festival is the largest independent film festival in the United States. Co-founded by Robert Redford, it began in Salt Lake City in the late 70s as the Utah/US Film Festival in an effort to attract more filmmakers to the area. The main goal was to promote American films made outside of the Hollywood system.

In the early 80s, the festival changed its location to Park City and it was moved from September to January in an attempt to draw more attention to the winter ski resorts where it was held. By the 90s, it became officially known as Sundance, named after Robert Redford’s character in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

As time went by, the festival evolved from a low-profile venue for small-budget, independent creators to the place to be for high-profile artists, studios, and sponsors alike. Forced to embrace these changes without losing its essence, the festival created new categories to promote innovative and diverse filmmakers from around the world as well as emerging media, panel discussions, and music events.


Park City, Utah is a former mining city located 40 minutes away from Salt Lake City, where the tourist population greatly exceeds the number of permanent residents. In part, thanks to the Sundance Film Festival and the ski resorts.

In 2018, in order to get to Park City from Uruguay, Ana had to fly to New York with a layover in Lima and then, take another flight to Salt Lake City with a layover in Detroit. Nowadays, you can take advantage of shared rides such as Lyft, which offers discounts for volunteers, to get from the airport to Park City. Remember to stay hydrated or the altitude will make you sick. A word of advice? Take your time to acclimate.


Be aware that during the winter season delays and cancellations are quite common, so don’t panic. Airlines are used to changes in their schedules and they will try their best to accommodate you in the next flight available to get you to your destination in time. Just be patient.

Bring your best winter boots and layer up. Temperatures can drop to 8 °F at this time of the year. Hand warmers and hot soups will become your best friends.


The festival could never run as smoothly as it does without the helping hands of over two thousand volunteers who arrive in Park City every January.

There are many positions to choose from, so you can apply to volunteer where you think you would be more useful according to your profile and interests, to name a few, providing guest services for artists and corporations; helping with set up, maintenance and tear down of festival events; assisting with daily operation tasks at HQ; providing information services to patrons; coordinating logistics for the equipments; video content editing and photography for marketing purposes; helping out in merch stores; helping with press check-in and press conferences; providing tech services; helping with distribution and collection of tickets at Box Office; assisting with theatre operations, from ticket taking to crowd control (where most volunteers are needed); assisting crowds with navigation from one location to another at transportation stops; flex volunteering (must be willing to take on any role as needed due to absences); and being part of the works crew, which assists with snow removal, signage distribution and other navigation duties.


Not only do volunteers benefit from the experience of working at a first-class renowned festival, they also get a front row seat of all the behind-the-scenes action. Moreover, Park City is such a friendly and walkable city that you never know who you might run into, maybe the director of that film you saw the night before or that actor from the panel you attended on the first day.

As a volunteer, you are entitled to a uniform consisting of a winter jacket, the color and design of which are unveiled days before the festival begins and has everyone waiting in great anticipation. Depending on your status as sign-up, half-fest or full-time volunteer, you get vouchers to see a film after your shift or tickets for an unlimited number of films just by showing your badge at the volunteer line outside the theatres. There are a number of tickets available for volunteers at every screening; as a full-time volunteer, Ana was always successful when she queued for these tickets.

Last but not least, on check-in day, you’re given a bag with the essentials to survive the festival, namely, the program, a transit map, a water bottle, and grub stubs which you can exchange for meals at predetermined partner stores (usually fast food chains or concession stands). This comes in handy when you’re running from one theatre to another. Well, actually, there’s little running involved. A shuttle bus runs the Theatre Loop route and it will take you to or close to all the theatres in the area. One of the bus stops is at a supermarket, where you can get anything you need, which is really practical. Riding the bus also allows you to meet other festival goers who will notice your volunteer jacket and strike up a conversation about which films they’ve seen and ask for your recommendations. That’s right, making friends is as easy as riding the bus.


They usually start receiving applications from the end of August until November. You fill out a form online with your personal information, previous experience, set of skills, reasons why you are interested in volunteering with them, and the number of hours you’re willing to work. If you’re a full-time volunteer (10 days and seven-hour shifts on average), the festival may provide some kind of shared lodging, though it is not always guaranteed; and if you’re not, you’ll need to secure your own lodgings and provide that information too.

An interview may take place online or over the phone, and in December, if accepted, you’ll get your assignments and schedule.

Mark your calendars! The 2020 Sundance Film Festival will take place from January 23 to February 2. Who’s coming? If you have any questions about the festival or the volunteer experience, send us an email.

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