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Notes from Sundance Film Festival: Lena Dunham, virtual reality and waiting for once-in-a-lifetime experiences
Jan 26, 2016 | 7668 views | 0 0 comments | 796 796 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Norman Lear kisses Lena Dunham’s cheek before their Cinema Café panel at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. 
Photo by Jenniffer Wardell | Davis Clipper
Norman Lear kisses Lena Dunham’s cheek before their Cinema Café panel at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Photo by Jenniffer Wardell | Davis Clipper

Park City - You have to remind yourself that it’s worth the wait.

Braving Park City during the Sundance Film Festival mostly means waiting in line, whether you’re trying to snag a parking spot or waiting for one of the coveted ticketless slots to a particular event. Still, even a one-day visit to the city’s downtown can give you the kind of once-in-a-lifetime experiences you just can’t get anywhere else.

New Frontier VR

The New Frontier Video Art exhibit occupied three buildings this year, and for some of the attractions the lines were as long as ever. The best plan was usually to sign up for the most popular VR experiences and then visit the other ones during the inevitable wait time (they texted you when it was your turn in line). The experiences themselves covered a variety of genres, from more serious political pieces to interactions with nature.

The level of immersion often depended on the quality of video or computer animation, but one of the most fascinating at this year’s exhibit created an experience you can’t have in reality. “In the Eyes of the Animal” gives participants an artistic representation of the way various animal species see the world, including a frog and some sort of flying bug. With an apparatus on your back that lets you feel the vibration of wings through your body or the shaking of the frog’s ribbit, it was a fascinating glimpse into a world I’d never imagined existing before. 


Though the Cinema Café panels are available for live-streaming online, attending them means you might have the chance of asking questions. This year organizers made potential attendees wait in line outside rather than in the lobby, so it’s important to make sure you’re wearing a warm coat and have necessary beverages already in hand (or have a friend willing to get one for you while you hold the place in line). For those who didn’t plan ahead, employees of Guayaki Coffee roamed around with tankards of coffee on their backs dispensing hot cups to customers.

The first Cinema Café of this year’s festival featured Norman Lear (creator of shows like “All in the Family”) and Lena Dunham (director, author, and creator/star of the TV series “Girls.”) Some highlights:

Norman Lear, on breaking down barriers in television: “I couldn’t get over the fuss that was made about that. There was nothing on my shows that every family wasn’t talking about. That’s what happens when the establishment thinks for the people.”

Lena Dunham, on hearing from people who read her autobiography: “I think we spend all our lives feeling this sense of terminal uniqueness. To realize that other people share what feel like unshareable experiences is life-changing.”

Norman Lear, on societal prejudices: “Human nature hasn’t changed the way it needs to change if it wants to see itself correctly. When we’re in conversation about the most difficult things, we’re closer than we would be without it.”


For some people, celebrity sightings are the primary recreational activity at Sundance. Though every venue is quick to list the celebrities that have been spotted within their walls at various points, it’s often easier to catch sight of them along the sidewalks of Main Street (the intersection of Main Street and Heber Avenue is a particularly good spot). If you catch them in the right mood, you might even get to shake their hand or pose with them for a selfie. 

Extra Surprises

If you’re really not willing to make the drive, however, some surprises are starting to trickle down to the valley. Though movie directors have been making their way down the mountain to speak at Salt Lake screenings for years, last Saturday saw actual celebrities making surprise appearances in Salt Lake Q and A sessions. Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano both spoke to audiences at The Grand Theatre, while Diane Ladd was spotted at Rose Wagner.


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