Sundance Fest nears saturation point

At least since “sex, lies and videotape” put the Sundance (then U.S.) Film Festival on the industry map in 1989, the January event has become an increasingly powerful magnet for industry figures with any reason to be interested in up-and-coming talent, independent cinema and the latest hot pictures.

This year, hot is the operative word more than ever before, as the Sundance Festival has almost literally reached the saturation point. It begins its 10-day run tomorrow after a Salt Lake City kick-off screening of Mike Newell’s “Into the West” tonight.

“We’re literally at a point where we couldn’t sell anyone another pass if we wanted to,” acknowledged fest program director Geoff Gilmore. “We’ve reached a situation where we can’t really accommodate everyone we’d like to.”

Handling the success as well as the influx of approximately 5,000 visitors into Park City is exactly what has concerned Sundance founder and topper Robert Redford for the past several years.

Gilmore echoed these sentiments, stating, “Although I think everyone will go away happy, the demand once again is taxing us to our limits, and we just don’t have the tickets for everyone to get into everything they want to see.”

He added, “I think there is additional heat this year because it’s been such a good year for independents, and people want to see what’s in store for the coming year.”

One factor that will provide some relief is the inauguration of a new screening venue, the 500-seat Carl Winter Theater, a renovated high school auditorium located in what will soon debut as a Park City cultural center. Screenings at the Winter were not offered in the official catalogue published a few weeks ago because fest organizers were not sure the hall would meet their technical requirements.

But after projection tests last week, Gilmore is satisfied that the Winter will be more than adequate as a cinema for fest presentations, and has skedded more than 20 additional screenings of the most in-demand attractions at the facility.

Fest is about 60% SRO, per Gilmore, as individual tickets to numerous screenings, particularly those in the mornings and afternoons, are still available.

But here are some statistics: Some 230 A passes, for the fest’s first half, have been sold at $ 350 apiece, compared to 140 last year; more than 500 B passes, for the second half, were gobbled up at $ 475 a pop, so many that the fest had to stop selling them; and more than 110 Fast Passes, which gain the bearer entry to all events at a cost of $ 1,100, have been sold. Individual ticket sales are also up 30% over last year.

Also, more than 200 press credentials have been issued, an all-time record. Fest media director Saundra Saperstein said there is “more high-profile media than we’ve ever had before,” including many more foreign journalists and electronic media such as the BBC and Channel 4 from the U.K. and TV webs from Mexico, Italy and Austria.

It is a foregone conclusion, Gilmore said: “Attendance will be as great as, or greater than we’ve ever had, and we’ve tried to accommodate everyone. We’ve certainly had more demand from the industry and from overseas than ever before. But we try to keep it open to the public, to people who don’t have special connections and big bank accounts. I think we’ve still managed to keep it a very egalitarian event.”

Gilmore denies charges that Sundance has “gone Hollywood.””I don’t feel we’ve compromised the festival to cater to the Hollywood industry. They’ve just become more interested in what we’re doing. This festival is definitely not just for people interested in ‘going Hollywood.’ “

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