Sundance 2020: (My) Day One

Sundance Film Festival, taking place near the end of January every year, celebrates what’s considered the best in independent film — from feature films and documentary to shorts and episodic content. This year, in its home of Park City, Utah, there were over 128 feature films spanning the 10-day festival. And I got the chance to see some of them.

For some context on my trip to Sundance … I’ve actually been trying to attend the festival since 2006. My university offered a Winter Term Sundance option, but I was never able to go — for various reasons. I even applied and interviewed for a job with the festival a few years back. So, it’s nothing short to say this was a major goal of mine.

While I wasn’t at Sundance the full 10 days (more something like 6ish, if you factor in traveling), I did catch some films, shorts, docs … and a few celebrity sightings. But what was I up to my first full festival day? Well, I’m here to share:

Sunday, January 26 — (My) Day One

After picking up my credentials the day before and grabbing my swag bag, with the highlight of a water bottle*, I was off to Main Street. This strip is considered the hub of the festival, with all the lounges, pop-ups, and special events happening here. I started my day early in what is typical Sundance fashion: standing in line.

*This water bottle was a life saver. Park City is a higher elevation and I was a breathing-heavy, dehydrated mess the first day or two.

Cinema Café with Hillary Rodham Clinton and Nanette Burstein 

At the Filmmaker Lodge, I listened to a moderated conversation between the former First Lady, Secretary of State and Presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton and director Nanette Burstein. Burstein is directing the upcoming Hulu 4-part docu-series on Clinton’s life.

During the talk, both discussed how the series developed initially from an interest in doing a documentary on Clinton’s presidential run in 2016. But it evolved into an in-depth look at her life, career and “polarizing” depiction.

While I wasn’t able to sit in the main room, I was in the cafe (adjoining), listening while sipping on some free coffee.

Panel: Transcendence of Narrative with Tessa Thompson, Colman Domingo & Justin Simien

After Cinema Café, I made my way down the street to the Audible Speakeasy for another panel. This one featured Tessa Thompson (“Sylvie’s Love“), Colman Domingo (“Zola“) and filmmaker Justin Simien (“Bad Hair“), who talked about the role of storytelling and representation.

Interview: Production Designer Adri Siriwatt

I ventured over to a VERY crowded Atticus Tea & Coffeehouse to meet up with production designer Adri Siriwatt. We chatted about her work on the film “The Last Shift,” plus her past work like “Knives and Skin” from Ohio-born director Jennifer Reeder.

It was also during this interview that we both got distracted twice by Zosia Mamet (“Girls”) coming into the coffeeshop and then sitting down on the sofa next me.

Film Screening: The Night House

I queued up for my first film screening of Sundance. And I picked a thriller/horror movie. “The Night House,” from director David Bruckner, follows Beth (Rebecca Hall) after the sudden death of her husband. Beth is living in the house her deceased husband designed and built; and some spooky things start happening. The amount of times the jump scares got me were enough to make the guy next to my chuckle a few times.

Film Screening: The Nowhere Inn 

I ended by first full day with the surrealist pseudo-concert/biopic “The Nowhere Inn.” The film (directed by Bill Benz) follows Annie Clark, better known as musician St. Vincent, as her friend Carrie Brownstein (“Portlandia,” Sleater-Kinney) makes a documentary about her; pushing her to embrace more of her St. Vincent side to make the movie more interesting. This is a sometimes trippy, often comical movie within a movie that plays on ideas of celebrity, persona, art and friendship.

And even though I was sitting in the front couple of rows, craning my neck, I’m hoping to see this movie again. Or least have the soundtrack released.

And that’s a wrap on my first day at Sundance 2020. Check out some of my notes from the day, plus some movie rec’s to watch.

Celebrity Sightings:

  • Jude Law
  • Daniel Dae Kim
  • Zosia Mamet

To Watch:

  • Hillary on Hulu, March 6
  • Bad Hair on Hulu, TBD
  • Knives and Skin (2019)



*Hero image from Sundance Institute, Photo 1 & 2 from me, Panel photo from David Becker/Getty Images for Audible, film photo from Sundance Institute by Elisha Christian, film photo from Sundance Institute by Minka Farthing Kohl  

by Dayna Brownfield

An editor, blogger, magazine maven, and occasional writer who's 80/20 coffee and pop-culture trivia. You can see past work on her website: daynab.com.


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