PARK CITY — Echoing Robert Redford’s admission that the Sundance Film Festival may have outgrown Park City, the parties celebrating the films have also grown to occupy their own special circle of hell.
Frenetic and overcrowded late-night celebrations have long been part of the Sundance culture. In recent years, however, the festival has fallen victim to relentless celebrity coverage and the bottomless deep pockets of corporate sponsorship. As a result, the event can be counted on to attract not only execs, filmmakers and film fans but also onlookers who make pilgrimages to Park City in January much as frat boys head for South Padre for spring break.
The crowds are further goaded by the creation of more and ever-bigger parties that are sold to sponsors much as college bowl games belong to Tostitos or Sprint. Sometimes the film companies use the money to hold events in multimillion-dollar mountainside mansions that resemble nothing so much as oversized Olive Garden restaurants. Or the funds might go toward renting public spaces large enough to accommodate the inevitable light stencils on their exterior. (Full disclosure: Variety hosts its own annual party at the Stein-Eriksen Lodge tonight.)
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For all that money, however, the results can fall woefully short of a good time. The Gersh Agency and Gen Art teamed to create a boondoggle at Deer Valley’s remote Empire Canyon Lodge that featured frantic valets, steel barricades and a photo call backdrop emblazoned with the logos of the party’s sponsors. Woe to the common folk who dared to step within range of the camera’s spotlights: “Please, you must keep this area clear!” snapped a photo coordinator apparently frustrated by the onslaught of anonymity. (Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, David Schwimmer and Catherine Keener eventually put in an appearance.)
Some companies are trying to fight the crowds by creating tiered events. To celebrate “The Upside of Anger,” New Line Cinema threw two parties Friday night. Guests who arrived at 8 p.m. mingled with cast members Kevin Costner, Keri Russell and Evan Rachel Wood along with CAA’s Rick Nicita, Newmarket Films’ Bob Berney and director Mike Binder, but few of them remained by the time the Village at the Lift opened its doors at 10 for a more general audience that began lining up for entrance a half hour in advance.
Similarly, the William Morris Agency is overseeing a lodge to host private parties in addition to its annual blowout Tuesday night. The home features professional chefs as well as swag giveaways sponsored by a liqueur and an artificial sweetener. Their hope is that the agency’s clients will visit the house, preferably trailed by cameras.
Celebrities oblige to the letter of the law, although not necessarily the spirit, as when WMA client Ludacris made an appearance at a press party Sunday night, trailed by a 10-person entourage and an MTV camera crew. “Yo, it looks like there’s free drinks here!” said the rapper and “Hustle & Flow” star as he made a beeline around the dining room, through the kitchen and back out the way he came. Total elapsed time: approximately 90 seconds.
Sundance officials have made it clear that they have disdain for the annual onslaught of branded events that turn Main Street into Bourbon Street. However, Sundance also acknowledges that it couldn’t exist without its own raft of corporate sponsors, which is how a dog food company became the host of an officially sanctioned Sundance party on Main Street last weekend that offered guests free consultations with a pet psychic.