PARK CITY, UTAH — The Sundance Film Festival is a badge of maverick credibility for thousands of independent filmmakers, along with people looking to star in, purchase or simply appreciate indie movies, not to mention the media.
The herding of all those tastemakers in one place has had an unexpected side effect: Come late January each year, a disappearing act takes place in Park City. Commercial spaces normally occupied by art galleries, real estate offices, clothing stores and restaurants are rented out to festival-related sponsors, who take them over for Sundance's 10 days. They turn them into plush, tastefully lighted sanctuaries that offer respite from the winter chill -- if you're on the right list, of course -- along with a mind-boggling array of branding tie-ins.
Everywhere you look along the town's central thoroughfare, Main Street, there are temporary spaces with grandiloquent appellations -- "lounges," "lodges," "rooms," "retreats," "houses" and "spas."
According to Alexa Dedlow, president of celebrity "gifting" company Luxestar, keeping straight the distinctions between, say, a "lodge" and a "lounge" can be tricky.
"Lounges are usually places to sit," said Dedlow, who co-organized the Winter Warm Up Retreat, a "gifting suite" at the festival. "Lodges on the other hand just have tables. You go around, look at products and then leave. Suites and retreats mean a good atmosphere. There'll be a bar. A suite is more VIP."
Most suites are famously devoted to Sundance's unofficial pastime: the accumulation of "gifts," a.k.a. swag (pricey luxury goods, services, food and drinks given out to celebrities with the understanding they are implicitly endorsing the stuff by accepting it). But many of the spaces display art, host musical showcases or cater to those moments when festival-goers' thoughts turn to things other than film -- like booze.
In an unscientific study conducted by The Times, "lounges" dominated the scene, outnumbering "rooms" (like the Heineken Green Room) by a ratio of about 5 to 1. Among the more high-profile Main Street lounges: Kari Feinstein's Style Lounge, Celcius: Park City's Only Ultra Lounge, the Phillips Simplicity Lounge, the AOL Cyber Lounge, the Main Event Lounge, the Essence Media Lounge and the Luxury Lounge.
"Houses" came in a distant second; the Hollywood Life House, the HD House and the Greenhouse ranked among those with the highest visibility. .
And though a "lodge" is indisputably the most ski-appropriate venue name here -- after all, one of Sundance's best-kept secrets is that during the festival's first four days, the slopes are nearly empty -- lodges were, in fact, few and far between. (Apologies to the Delta Sky Lodge and Film Maker Lodge.)
It can all inspire a longing for authenticity in the same people it is meant to impress.
"It's flattering that anybody would go through all this trouble to transform these places for the festival," said actress Toni Trucks, whose feature "Weapons" is being screened in the American independent competition. "But at the same time, it's overwhelming. A sensory overload. Everywhere you look, people have created these environments. You don't get a sense of the real Park City -- just the fake one."