SALT LAKE CITY — Jill Whitmore's family loves movies, so on a Tuesday afternoon during school break she hunkered down with four little girls — her two and their friends — and some popcorn at a matinee of "Tangled."
Asked about the upcoming Sundance Film Festival, though, Whitmore, a Utah native, looks nonplussed. "Of course I'm familiar with it," she says. "And I'd love to go sometime. But I have kids."
Family-friendly may not be the image that comes to mind if you're thinking about the world-famous independent film festival, which runs Jan. 20-30. But families — and particularly locals — miss out on some great opportunities to enjoy the event, said Kris Parker, Sundance spokeswoman.
"I couldn't give you a percentage or number (of films suitable for a kid-containing audience), she said, "but there's something for everyone. And that's especially true in the documentary category." It's true as well, she added, in activities that complement the screenings.
For example, the Honda Power of Dreams Experience on Park City's upper Main Street near the Egyptian Theater features a motorcycle training simulator, a short film and ASIMO, the world's most advanced humanoid robot (shows hourly), back by popular demand.
There's also a festival co-op where people can get their hair and makeup done, she said. And you can look for family-friendly fare among the panel discussions and off-screen events, music events (schedules are all online, you just have to look through them) and the New Frontier events that take place at the Miners Hospital in Park City and the Salt Lake Art Center. SLAC has co-exhibits that will actually run through March and "are exciting both for adults and children," Parker said.
The best way to find the suitable films, since they're not rated, is through the online film guide. Sort it by "family friendly" and a list of 22 suitable films pop up, across the categories of documentaries, premieres, shorts, spotlight or U.S. documentaries competition. "GRAB" is Native American Billy Luther's look at his Laguna Pueblo tribe in New Mexico's tradition of showering food and gifts from their roofs to honor family members. "Animals Distract Me" tags after animal lover Isabella Rossellini for a day. "Page One" documents the challenges newspapers are facing, told through the New York Times, while "These Amazing Shadows" showcases film and how it reflects culture by looking at the National Film Registry. Among other offerings are an egocentric boy trying to grow up, a rabbit that finds his neighbor has the same name and more.
"The other really important thing is to use our customer service team if you have reservations or questions about certain films," Parker said. "There's a lot for families." Locals have an advantage at the film festival, but some of the opportunity has already passed. The local online advance registration is over and people have already received their e-mails arranging tickets. But there are a half-dozen ways, still, to score tickets. It's not really over until a screening starts.
For screenings at Ogden's Peery Egyptian Theater and at Provo's Sundance Resort, people waiting in line at 7:30 a.m. Jan. 8 can get a time slot card saying when to return that day between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. to buy tickets. You can only get screenings at the venue where you're buying the tickets. Those are for locals only and ticket buyers need to bring Utah-issued identification.
Open ticket sales take place Jan. 17-28 online, where you can buy tickets left over from the advanced sales, until 36 hours before show time. Pick them up at Trolley Square in Salt Lake or Gateway Mall in Park City two hours before the show. You can also get them, if available, at those box offices Jan. 17-30.
If the screening you wanted is now sold out, try the "day of festival" route. Daily, a certain number of tickets to screenings are released. You have to show up to see what's available. Surprise! For Salt Lake venues, go to the box office at Trolley Square. In Park City, visit the box office in its Gateway mall (not Salt Lake Gateway). Tickets for each theater's first screening of the day are released at 8 a.m. the day before. You have to get all these in person.
Can't plan ahead or missed out on other options? The final-last minute option is the wait list, which Parker said has become popular with hundreds of attendees each year. Two hours before the screening you hope to see, go to that venue and pick up a number — one per person — and at least a half hour before, find your place in the line. Festival staff will see how many people haven't shown up 15 minutes before the show and will sell tickets to that many people. Wait list numbers are given one hour before the day's first screening time. Wait list tickets are $15 each, cash only.
The films that win awards at the festival will all be available for free local screening the day after the festival ends, as well. Those tickets are distributed Jan. 15 and 16 in Park City and Salt Lake and Jan. 15 only at Sundance and in Ogden. Each person can get two tickets per screening, but no more than four total. You can try to just show up for a screening, but no tickets may be available. Details are online at www.sundance.org
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