Last month I had the pleasure of attending, for the first time, the Sundance Film festival in Park City, Utah, as the guest of TV broadcaster the Sundance Channel.
The festival, a favourite among indie cinema fans for almost four decades, came barely a month after the Dubai International Film Festival, and with that event fresh in my mind I couldn’t help but compare the two.
The most immediately striking difference was, unsurprisingly, the weather. I’ve become accustomed to festivals by the sea in bright sunshine. As soon as I stepped out of Salt Lake City Airport into -15°C temperatures, it became clear I needed to get my coat out of my suitcase sooner rather than later.
The temperature affects the cinema experience too – with multiple layers of clothes to remove, you need to give yourself a good 10 minutes before the movie starts, while piles of coats, hats and scarves on chair backs and on the floor make navigating the rows of seats an assault course in the dark.
The festival is the polar opposite of Dubai’s exclusive red carpets, evening gowns and black ties. Think instead white carpets, parkas and moonboots, whether you’re a Hollywood star in town for a premiere or a local who picked up a standby ticket after work.
The casual vibe extends indoors – I have never been served fried chicken in the five-star environs of Madinat Jumeirah by a man called Brad in a lumberjack shirt.
One American film director in my hotel was thrown into a panic, calling all of her friends at the festival in search of an evening dress having unexpectedly been invited to a dinner that required formal attire – she’d have no trouble tracking one down at Diff.
One thing that really surprised me was how spread out the festival was. While Main Street made for a compact social hub, only one screening venue, the Egyptian Theatre, is actually on the street – the others are scattered around in the mountains, some of them three shuttle-bus rides away.
The population of Park City is only around 9,000 people. Admittedly this is a deceptive figure – that is the permanent population but in winter the town transforms into one of the biggest ski resorts in the United States, while the festival attracts a further 50,000 visitors.
Still, it amazed me that a town that presumably spends much of the year as a sleepy backwater could stretch out across quite such a great distance. It put into perspective the many times I’ve heard journalists at Diff complain about the arduous shuttle ride all the way from Madinat Jumeirah to Mall of the Emirates for a screening. Park City also gives Dubai’s infamous traffic a run for its money, what with the Sundance crowds, mountain roads and frequent, heavy snow.
It wasn’t all heavy coats and arduous treks through the mountains to catch a screening of the next surprise box-office smash though – I did allow myself one little luxury.
I had noted on the internet that my hotel featured an outdoor heated pool and hot tub, and so I promised myself that at least one morning I would get up extra-early and sample this hot-and-cold experience. It was an incredible way to start the day, soaking in a steaming-hot tub surrounded by freezing snow and mountain vistas.
If anyone from Diff is reading, I’ll be demanding that a hot tub is installed at Ski Dubai for my new early-morning routine before I write a single word about this year’s event. A simple shower is just so ... European?