Thursday, Jan. 18
I’ve been in Park City for 45 minutes, and I am already out of breath.
Somewhere between playing Tetris with my schedule and planning which impractical coat to bring, I’d forgotten about the tiny detail that Park City sits at 7,000 feet of elevation, which is approximately 7,000 feet more than New York City. By the time I get to my hotel, I feel like Cameron Diaz in The Holiday when her car drops her off half a mile from Kate Winslet’s country cottage and she has to hoof it the rest of the way, sweat dripping down her perfectly symmetrical face. Luckily, I get a welcome tote bag with Advil, hand warmers, and crucially: electrolyte tablets.
After dinner with a group of journalists, the influencer Owin Pierson, violinist Ezinma, and Chase Sapphire publicists, I head to the cast party for Freaky Tales, which stars Pedro Pascal, Ji-young Yoo, and Jay Ellis. The party was at Chase Sapphire Lounge, which takes over the Prospect Gallery on Main Street, bathing it in a neon blue light that you can clock from halfway down Main Street.
Inside, the space is decked out in comfy couches, fresh flowers, low lights, and a stocked bar. Servers pass around bites: Tiny shot glasses of butternut squash soup, caprese skewers, and tuna tartare. Guests start piling in, including Pascal, who everyone is whispering about, either in reference to him no longer wearing a sling, his dapper white suit, or the way he seamlessly runs court. The biggest fan reaction, though, isn’t for Pascal but for the Bay Area rapper Too Short, who is also in the film, who a colleague of mine nearly screams over. Also there: Jay Ellis, wearing an oatmeal colored sweater that real Insecure fans can appreciate.
Friday, Jan. 19
First up is breakfast at The Bridge restaurant, a Brazilian cafe jutting up against a literal chairlift that provides celebrity sightings all weekend. The first? Will Sharpe of The White Lotus. “This is the first Sundance where I’m, like, not stressed,” he says while eating an omelet as skiers whizz past us.
Next up is the Eccles Center for the red carpet for Love Me, asci-fi romance starring Kristen Stewart and Steven Yeun. Eccles Center is a middle school and it is, in fact, a school day, which means kids are sauntering out the door in sweatpants and collegiate sweatshirts, totally unfazed by the 20-person line of photographers, videographers, and journalists camped out. (Fun fact: A friend who grew up in Park City told me they got a week off for Sundance every year.) We are all here to talk to Stewart, a bonafide Sundance sweetheart with 10 festival premieres under her belt. “Kristen is going to be totally inaccessible this weekend,” I hear a reporter say while scrolling through her list of questions. Still, we’re all there to try.
My time as a high schooler camping out in front of venues to try to meet Lady Gaga and the Jonas Brothers has prepared me for this. We file in and I chat with Yeun on the red carpet, who, when I asked what he finds attractive, replies: “a tender touch.” Stewart walks the red carpet with her signature DGAF attitude and kindergarten-core outfit of rolled up jeans, a t-shirt, and red sneakers. It’s a casualness she kept up through the weekend — very Sundance of her. The film itself is a touching AI story of a smart buoy and a satellite who find love long after humanity is gone and is sure to be a hit.
Later that night welcomes a party hosted by local celeb Meredith Marks — who, unlike fellow Real Housewife of Salt Lake City Lisa Barlow, is not the “queen of Sundance.” It’s a low-key cocktail party held at her Main Street boutique, where I have two bites of Meredith Marks caviar, and guests drink cocktails out of containers made to look like perfume bottles. Notable attendees include Chris Colfer, AKA Kurt from Glee, who despite being off network TV for almost a decade, still looks exactly like Kurt from Glee.
Afterwards, I experience nirvana at the cast party for Steven Soderberg’s Presence, a film about a family who moves into a suburban house only to realize they’re not alone, starring Julia Fox and Lucy Liu. Ever since meeting Sarah Jessica Parker and seeing Avril Lavigne at the NYLON’s NYFW party, I don’t get starstruck. This personal theory was proven wrong when I see Liu float through the room as if buoyed by all the love and adoration she inspires. “Lucy Liu is the blueprint,” a friend says. Her posse leads her quickly to an area sectioned-off with a velvet rope, where she joins Fox. I have to sit down from the excitement, so I sip a tequila soda.
Saturday, Jan. 20
I start Saturday at the crack of dawn (9 a.m.), to meet the stars of Ponyboi, a film about an intersex sex worker on the run in New Jersey, at the NPF Inspire Lounge, a hub for press, publicists, and talent to warm up — and get free Botox. While waiting to interview the film’s stars Victoria Pedretti, Indya Moore, and River Gallo (who also wrote the film), a Santa Claus-like man asks if I would like a hot cinnamon roll. I’ve never had someone anticipate my needs more.
Around me, people are in line for injectables, refilling cups of coffee and hot chocolate, and picking at croissants while camera operators fiddle with their equipment and publicists usher talent in and out of the room. I wait my turn and then step outside with the cast, where I meet Dylan O’Brien, who is also in the film. I have to interrupt Pedretti, Gallo, and Moore who are dancing, cheering, hugging, and complimenting each other on how pretty they all look, so I can ask them questions about Sundance, and find out Moore wants to marry Everette Taylor, the CEO of Kickstarter.
It’s a big day for celebrities: later, while minglng at the St Regis, you can tell we’re in the presence of celebrity simply by how many publicists are scurrying around. It’s Saoirse Ronan, who dashes into the Funicular, a gondola-like contraption, for an interview.
That evening, at the premiere of My Old Ass, director Megan Parks’ second feature starring Aubrey Plaza, Maisy Stella, Maddie Ziegler, and Kerrice Brooks, everyone is waiting for is Plaza. Journalists are geeking out over her. One reporter next to me shows her a picture of them together taken a decade ago. In the spirit of the film, I asked her what advice she would give her 18-year-old self: “Experiment,” she responds. Noted!
While waiting for the screening of Love Lies Bleeding, the Rose Glass-directed lesbian bodybuilding love story also starring Stewart, I watch the paparazzi carry manila envelopes full of Twilight: New Moon posters in the hopes that she stops for autographs, so they can sell them. Instead, it’s Dave Franco signing autographs, smiling and waving. Soon enough, though, Stewart exits a Sundance-branded Acura wearing red trousers and a cut-up tank top. She does not sign the posters. Afterwards is a party hosted by Gold House, the non-profit that champions Asian creatives, which held over-capacity panels with Liu and Yeun earlier in the day. The Veueve Clicquot is gone and it’s past last call (which is 1 a.m. in Utah), but there’s leftover Sprinkles cupcakes, which we devour. Afterwards, we pop into a late-night pizza joint on Main Street, where I run into producer and man about town Adam Faze, who tells me he is in Park City “just to ski,” and that this is also his eighth Sundance. Later, I overhear a guy tell his friend he’s trying to be less douchey to which his friend replies, “It’s impossible. It’s Sundance. We’re filmmakers.”