Culture / Entertainment

Houston Power Players Mingle With Movie Stars and Snow Bunnies at Sundance

Behind the Scenes at the Famed Film Festival’s Wild and Wacky Parties

BY // 01.29.18

PARK CITY, UTAH — While it seems that all of Hollywood invaded this ski town for the 10-day Sundance Film Festival, Houston is equally well represented. Park City is second home to an increasing number of Houstonians seeking to escape the heat, embrace the snow and enjoy the many activities of the festival.

Texas Children’s Hospital former board president (now board member) Ron Hulme has been attending the festival for a dozen years.

“This is my favorite week to be in Park City — great movies and empty ski slopes,” he tells PaperCity. “We usually invite friends and family, and snag as many tickets as possible. This year we saw 16 films in five days.”

Two of Hulme’s favorite films were Blaze, the story of Texas-raised but little known singer-songwriter Blaze Foley, directed by Ethan Hawke, and Juliet, Naked, a romantic comedy about an obscure aging rocker and a lone fan, that stars Hawke, who has been a attending the festival almost as long as Hulme. Hulme says “Ethan Hawke is Sundance.”

Now in its 34th year, the festival offered 120 films, panels, music, delicious foods and of course celebrity sightings as directors, actors, politicians and even a Supreme Court justice graced its snowy streets. During the festival, Park City’s population swells from less than 10,000 to 60,000-plus, but the town handles it with aplomb. Temperatures fall to well below freezing, but everyone bundles up, strolls the town’s quaint Main Street which has a festive vibe.

Houston documentary film producers Debbie McLeod and Jay Sears of Impact Partners had a lot to celebrate. Four of their films premiered at the festival, including Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and a documentary on Fred “Mister” Rogers, which has been one of the festival’s most sought after tickets. Their 2017 Sundance film Icarus, which deals with Russian doping at the Olympics was just nominated for an Oscar in the best documentary category.

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McLeod and Sears, Sundance veterans with more than 30 films under their belts, usually visit the festival during its first five days, staying at Hotel Park City spending their time seeing films and meeting with other filmmakers.

Houston Film Commission deputy director, Alfred Cervantes has been attending the festival for more than 20 years and divides his time between attending screenings and meeting new filmmakers and producers to promote Houston/Texas as a filmmaking destination. Cervantes co-hosts the Houston Film Commission’s annual gathering, one of the most prized party invites which takes place on Park City’s Main Street and gives Texas filmmakers a chance to connect, swap film recommendations and talk opportunities for Texas films.

Lily Jang, Christine Ho, Toni Lundin and Mandy Ngo made their first trip to the Sundance Film Festival. “We typically come to Park City to ski but this time we planned our ski trip so we could experience Sundance as well.”

They stayed with a friend at the bottom of the town’s ski lift and shopped at high end Main Street retailer Gorsuch; rubbed elbows with celebrities Chloe Moretz, Matthew Lillard and Catt Sadler; feasted at popular hangout High West Distillery and danced the night away at the Diplo concert.

Not everyone wants to brave the crowds, long lines and traffic typical of the festival. Savvy Houstonians know that the week of the Sundance Film Festival is the best time to ski, because everyone is in the movie theaters. Houstonians Nancy Ormand and daughter Erinn celebrated a mother-daughter weekend by skiing at Deer Valley, shopping at Cake Boutique on Main Street, dining at hot spot 350 Main and having drinks at the NoName Saloon.

Other Houstonians seen on the slopes, on the buses transporting film-goers to the nine city theaters, or waiting in line for films include Rosemary SchatzmanGinni Mithoff, Chree Boydston, John Mann, Nick Scurfield, Amanda Hughes, Dan Pickering, Valerie Burman, John Mann, Susan Row, Ruth Duenser, Janet and Graham Baker, Alfred Cervantes, Clifford Pugh, Cathy Cleary, Casey Foster, Randi Cleary Koenig, Melanie Sayed, Annette Baker, Lori and Chip Johnson, and Bill and Sandy Bryan.

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