Culture / Entertainment

Inside the World of Sundance Parties With the Texans Who Love This Movie Madness

Hot Events, Freezing Temps, Long Lines and Texas Stars

BY // 02.01.19

PARK CITY, Utah — During the vaunted Sundance Film Festival this ski town’s population expands from 10,000 to more than 100,000. Temperatures hover in the teens. Traffic is horrendous. Lines are long. But there is no jazzier place for film aficionados. Each year, more and more Texans flock to the festival to mingle with Hollywood’s glitterati, to hit the nearly empty slopes as skiers opt for films, catch the many concerts and panels and sample the panoply of restaurants that line Park City’s picturesque Main Street.

For the 2019 festival, Sundance offers 112 feature-length films, representing 33 countries and 45 first-time filmmakers. In Sundance’s typically groundbreaking fashion, 53 percent of the directors in this year’s U.S. Dramatic Competition are women. The festival menu includes short films, workshops, artificial intelligence experiences, round table discussions, exhibitions and live entertainment.

What most people who haven’t been to Sundance don’t know is that films are screened in the local synagogue, hotel ballrooms, the high school auditorium, city library, a tennis facility and a former sporting goods store spread all across Park City, a distance of about six miles, end to end. The festival and the city discourage driving by prohibiting parking on most streets, charging $40 for parking in city lots, and providing free parking in selected areas and frequent free bus service among the seven screening venues.

Part of the Sundance experience is riding buses and waiting in lines to get into the theaters which gives one a good chance of meeting other Texans as well as actors, writers, directors, producers and distributors.

The Sundance Party Scene

Sundance’s party scene is plentiful with festivities held all hours of the day and night to host new directors, film acquisitions, award winners, and the organizations that brought them to life. Sponsors and studios host parties for their talent and their customers. There were two can’t miss parties of Sundance for Texans.

One of the hottest tickets in town was the Texas  Association of Film Commissions’ annual Film Texas which took place on Park City’s Main Street during the opening weekend of Sundance. Alfred Cervantes, deputy director of the Texas Film Commission and co-host of the event, has been coming to Sundance for more than 21 years and looks forward to giving Texas filmmakers a chance to connect, swap film recommendations and brainstorm on future opportunities for Texas films.

Partygoers included director of the Texas Film Commission Stephanie Whallon, Taylor Hertsenberg, Michelle Habecker, Greg Carter, and Scott Szabo.

The after party for  Raise Hell: Life and Times of Molly Ivins  was held at Grub Steak House a popular local restaurant. Hosted by the Texas ACLU, many of the guests were Texans who had just seen the film, or those who had a connection to Molly Ivins. Some guests were decked out in cowboy hats and boots while others wore layers of winter clothing ranging from rustic to chic in order to combat some of the coldest temperatures in recent Januaries.

Munching on a Texas style buffet of guacamole, burgers, queso, chicken wings, and barbecue washed down with margaritas and beer were co-producer of the documentary Carlisle Vandervoort, attorney Mark Wawro, Katie Sammons and Trey Peacock, Ginni Mithoff, Chree Boydstun, Clifford Pugh, John Mann, and Michael and Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas.

Beyond the Movies

Dirk Voorhes threw his wife Emily a surprise 40th birthday party at the Outfitters Cabin at Promontory Ranch Club a plush development six miles from Park City, where more than 25 Houstonians have made their second homes. Houstonians who winged in for the birthday bash also skied at Deer Valley Resort and lunched at Stein Eriksen Lodge included Natasha Balette, Amy Boquist and Tonia Whilden. 

Scheming Sundance

Many Houstonians make attending Sundance an annual tradition. Mark Wawro, partner of national law firm Susman Godfrey has been coming to the festival since he bought his Park City home in 2005. Each year he attends the first week with the same group of friends and the second week with his son who is a Hollywood assistant film editor. This year Wawro and friends saw 17 films in seven days.

“Melanie comes occasionally, but doesn’t really like the multiple-movies-in-one-day approach,” he says of his wife, Melanie Gray.

To keep track of the logistical challenges for his ambitious schedule, he kept a white board of tracking buzzworthy films, locations and times. Wawro’s  favorite film was Brittany Runs A Marathon,  a story about an overweight girl who — you guessed it — runs a marathon. Other favorites were the widely acclaimed documentary on Ivins and Late Night starring Emma Thompson as the only woman late night TV host.

“I keep coming back because I love movies and hanging out with others who  love movies,” Wawro says.

Other Houston movie buffs seen waiting in line, riding the shuttles or in the theaters include Sheila and Ron Hulme, Valerie and Darryl Burman, Vera and Andy Baker, Dan Pickering and Amanda Hughes, Leah Gross, Jennifer Yoder, Melisa Dion, Cathy and Joe Cleary, Monica Oathout, Grace Oathout, Ruth Duenser, Susan Row, Annette Baker, Susan Rupf, Lisa and David Fleishman and Allyson Brupbacher.

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