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6 Ways to watch the Sundance Film Festival for free

And tips to avoid the crowds and hassle!

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6 Ways to watch the Sundance Film Festival for Free

Leslie Jones

As a former teacher, Leslie has had intense training in the fine art of listening for subtleties and understanding complex issues...

As a former teacher, Leslie has had intense training in the fine art of listening for subtleties and understanding complex issues...

Jan 7 8 minutes read

Many Wasatch Front residents' experience of Sundance comes in cycles of good intentions.

 Mid-January, the headlines begin popping up in newspapers and on newsfeeds—one of the largest and most prestigious film festivals is about to begin, practically in your own backyard. You think to yourself, "That would be fun. I really should get tickets this year." A week later, the rumors spread on Facebook or at work from that friend of your cousin who saw Emma Stone and James Franco walking down Center Street. That's when you remember: you were going to plan a unique date night to the festival. But by the time you log on to get tickets, most are already picked over or you become overwhelmed by all the packages, the prices, the planning, the traffic, the crowds, and you decide, "Maybe a Redbox will be easier. I'll plan better next year."

Then, come mid-January the following year, the headlines appear and . . . Sundance hasn't crossed your mind for 11 months. You're back to square one. 

But seeing a Sundance movie doesn't need to break the bank or take hours of planning. Whether it's the hassle, the crowds, or the cost holding you back, here are six ways you can watch Sundance films for free, plus tips for those who want to better plan for next year.

1. Take advantage of Best of Fest Sundance tickets.

To give back to the community that supports their festival, Sundance offers free screenings of award-winning films specifically for locals. This year’s Best of Fest screenings will be on February 4, 2019, in Park City (6 p.m. and 9 p.m.), Salt Lake City (3:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m., and 9:30 p.m.), and Sundance (6 p.m. and 9 p.m.). The titles of the films will be released February 3, and locals can reserve tickets using Sundance’s eWaitlist two hours before a film screening. Learn more here.

Tip from a seasoned local: When reserving tickets online or in person, be sure to log in or arrive early, as tickets can disappear fast. It’s also smart to come with a backup plan, in case the movie you most want to see is sold out.

2. Enjoy a free Townie Tuesday film.

Summit County residents get an extra perk during Sundance with special, free film screenings on January 29, 2019, at the library (9 p.m.) and the Redstone Cinemas (7 p.m.). These, too, will be distributed through Sundance’s eWaitlist two hours before the film screening. Learn more here.

Tip from a seasoned local: If all the Sundance ticket packages and passes seem overwhelming but there is a specific film you want to see, take advantage of early access to tickets for Utah locals, which begins January 17, 2019.

3. Don’t forget the free summer film screenings.

If you want a more laid-back experience of Sundance, try the free summer film screenings Sundance Institute puts on in Salt Lake City, Park City, Ogden, St. George, and Kamas. Though the movies begin at dusk, the fun often begins much earlier with free concerts, Q&As with movie stars, and other fun events. While this summer’s film screening schedule has not been posted yet, 2018’s screenings ran from late June to early October. Check back here to learn what movies are playing near you.

Tip from a seasoned local: All the films at Sundance are not rated, which means finding family-friendly content can be a bit like playing Russian roulette, unless you know what to look for. If you are concerned about film content, carefully read the film’s description, look up past films by the same director and writer on IMDb’s Parents’ Guide to get a feel for their style, wait for reviews to be posted about the films, or look up the films being shown for the Student Screenings Program, which the Sundance Institute selects specifically for junior high and high school students.

4. Have your local school take advantage of a Sundance student field trip.

Do you want to give your kids a chance to participate in a historic and iconic cultural experience? Then have their teacher look into Sundance’s Student Screenings Program. Since 2000, over 73,000 Utah students and teachers have participated in the screenings, which are designed to introduce students to the art of filmmaking and tell diverse stories from around the world. For more information, email [email protected]

Tip from a seasoned local: Did you know students can get discounted passes to Sundance? Beginning in Fall 2019, check out pass options for the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.

5. Become a volunteer at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Do you want the full experience of Sundance without the hefty ticket prices? Consider becoming a volunteer, but know this option requires considerable commitment. The festival requires volunteers to spend at least 24 hours working over the 11-day festival—a commitment that comes with perks such as private film screenings, free tickets, access to awards parties and ceremonies, etc., depending on the number of hours you volunteer. Find out more information here.  

Tip from a seasoned local: Demand for tickets is lower in Salt Lake City and Ogden, so those are the best venues for price-conscious and crowd-averse attendees.

6. Try checking your Netflix, YouTube, or Amazon accounts.

For those of you who prefer the comfort of your home to crowds, Netflix may offer a unique way for you to experience Sundance right from your couch. While Netflix and Amazon did not buy Sundance films in 2018, which Business Insider attributed to a switch in their strategies, several 2018 Sundance films began streaming on Netflix, YouTube Red, and more during or shortly after the film festival. If you are not concerned about being among the first to watch these independent films, you can still find many past award-winning Sundance films on Netflix, Amazon, YouTube Red, etc. The one perk to this way of viewing Sundance films is that many of these films have reviews and content summaries on Parents’ Guide or Common Sense Media, which allows you to find the perfect fit for your family.

No matter what your style or mode of movie watching, don’t let the crowds or cost of Sundance scare you away. There are many cheap, easy ways for you and your family to enjoy Sundance and participate in one of the world’s most iconic film festivals.

Tip from a seasoned local: If you like what you see from the festival this year, check back in fall 2019 for local discounted passes, packages, and the best deals for Sundance 2020. If you don’t think you can use 10 to 20 tickets yourself, split the cost and tickets between friends and family.

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