What it’s like to be the only college journalists at Sundance

PARK CITY, Utah – Imagine receiving an opportunity to attend the Sundance Film Festival, a raging 24-hour, week-long party in Park City, Utah resplendent with free swag, groundbreaking movie screenings and Cristal-sipping with A-list movie stars like Nicole Kidman.

Now pretend that you’re going to do it on a student budget. This prospect looks a little bit more like Natty Light with B-list movie stars like Skeet Ulrich. But wait, you’re not even 21. Juice with other hack journalists and maybe Charo looks even more likely.

Established in 1981, the Sundance Institute is a place for filmmakers to engage in creative dialogue while enjoying the snow-capped splendor of Park City. Robert Redford, founder and president of the Institute, discovered the pristine valley while exploring the mountains on his motorcycle. After purchasing a small tract, he grew enamored with his original investment and bought the surrounding land to protect it. Redford’s star-status in the 1970s allowed him to become a major proponent of environmental causes, and using his massive wealth, he centered the development of America’s “third coast” around his small ranch.

Sundance – named after Redford’s role opposite Paul Newman in the 1969 film “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” – is now the moniker of a ski resort, film festival, cable channel and even a clothing line. Despite the growth of the film festival – at which audiences annually exceed 30,000 – Redford attempts to remain true to Sundance’s original spirit of independence and environmental preservation (indeed, the bathrooms in the secluded Sundance village smell 10 times cleaner than the average dorm room).

However, those who fly in from Los Angeles and New York can seem slightly jaded. While festival-goers enjoy the bright sun of the high altitude, the occasionally harassed industry-types race around, tied to their electronic leashes; constantly answering cell phones, typing out messages on Blackberries or other high-tech handheld devices and giving the poor university press rude looks.

As journalists, we scored some halfway decent swag and managed to weasel a few free meals out of the corporate sponsored interview lounges. We certainly felt out of place at press screenings, where we were the youngest press there by at least a decade (apparently professional movie writers are balding, depressed blogger types). In dark theatres filled with older white men, we scratched notes furtively in the dark, only to sadly discover later than our pens had run out.

But we found our way and hit a groove after a few days, mostly after talking to the locals, who know the land better and are more likely to be able to help you out of a tight spot. The cinema was good, and the sun was always shining – it does when you’re this high above the clouds. Take a deep breath of the high mountain air; it’s still clean up here.

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