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Originally published January 12, 2014 at 5:30 AM | Page modified January 16, 2014 at 3:24 PM

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Sleepless at Sundance: How Seattle film pros ‘do’ the festival

With the 10-day Sundance Film Festival set to open Jan. 16, Seattle festival veterans offer their best advice to festival goers — and the tips let the rest of us experience the adventure vicariously.

Special to The Seattle Times

Seattle’s Sundance connections

Several films screening at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival have Seattle connections. Here they are, with the festival categories in which they appear:

“Laggies” (Premieres): A young woman doesn’t want to grow up and spends time with a teenage friend instead. Directed by Lynn Shelton, filmed in Seattle with a local crew including Ben Kasulke as cinematographer.

“Land Ho!” (NEXT, a category said to highlight innovative and forward-thinking approaches): Former brothers-in-law embark on a road trip through Iceland. Starring Seattle actor Paul Eenhoorn; Kasulke was a camera operator and has a small acting role.

“The One I Love” (Premieres): A troubled couple’s vacation goes awry. Produced by Seattleite Mel Eslyn.

“Rat Pack Rat” (Shorts Competition): A Sammy Davis Jr. impersonator is called to the deathbed of a Rat Pack fan. Produced by Seattle filmmaker Megan Griffiths, with Kasulke as cinematographer.

“Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” (U.S. Dramatic): A Japanese woman comes to the U.S. searching for a briefcase of loot. Crew includes cinematographer Sean Porter, a Seattle native.

“Allergy to Originality” (Shorts Competition): A comedic documentary explores the history of appropriation in art, from adaptation to plagiarism. Written and directed by Drew Christie.

Christy Karras, Special to The Seattle Times

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Lynn Shelton’s first Sundance Film Festival as a feature director five years ago was more eventful than she had anticipated — and not just because her movie, “Humpday,” generated a late-night bidding war among potential distributors.

After a few sleepless nights and crazy days, “I got sicker than I’ve ever been with the flu ... I spent the last five days of the festival lying on a couch in my condo, moaning and groaning,” recalls Shelton, whose Seattle-shot feature “Laggies” will premiere at this year’s festival, Jan. 16-26 in Park City, Utah.

That’s the nature of Sundance, one of the world’s top independent-film showcases, where 50,000 film creators, buyers, brokers and fans converge on a tiny ski-resort town (usual population: 8,000) for 10 days dedicated to discovering movies made outside the big-budget studio system. The festival that Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute first brought to Park City’s steep, narrow streets 30 years ago is rewarding and exciting — but also physically grueling and often confusing.

Mary Bacarella, managing director of the Seattle International Film Festival, recently said she’ll be attending Sundance for the first time. But she’s in the minority among a big Seattle contingent full of festival veterans. What advice do the regulars have for first-time festival goers, whether industry insiders or adventure-seeking fans?

Shelton’s strategy since that first year: “Try, at all costs, to avoid getting sick.” She stays hydrated and avoids alcohol (the resort town’s 7,000-foot elevation heightens its effects). She prepares for all kinds of weather; a blizzard could follow a sunny and almost T-shirt-warm day, so the dress code calls for layers and sturdy boots. She also ditches late-night parties in favor of sleep.

You won’t find many actors at those parties, either. When Paul Eenhoorn wasn’t at screenings and press events for last year’s Sundance film “This Is Martin Bonner,” the Seattle-based actor was seeking shuteye. For film industry folks, this is a business trip.

Eenhoorn is headed to Park City for the buddy comedy “Land Ho!” — a role he got largely based on his acclaimed work in “Martin Bonner.”

He says that while the festival feels chaotic, transportation and venues are well organized. With a few questions and some planning, “You don’t have to go hunting around to find out where the devil you’re supposed to be,” he said.

Seattle filmmaker Megan Griffiths, whose feature “The Off Hours” opened at Sundance a few years ago, agrees. “The Sundance website is full of information about the festival, the venues, and the shuttle system in Park City — it’s all a bit overwhelming when you land, so either find an experienced buddy or DO YOUR RESEARCH!” she wrote in an email.

One caveat: The festival is most crowded (and volunteers and shuttle drivers are just getting the hang of things) during the busy first weekend.

Another pro tip: Be nice to festival volunteers. As the boots on the ground, they’re the source of not just festival information but also buzz about films — and the people who make them. “They come from all over the world, and you really should meet them,” Eenhoorn said. Not only are they helpful, “They can really influence the perception of your film.”

Your best bet for getting last-minute tickets? Use the waitlist, or standby, to get tickets on the day of the film; a few seats are always set aside for the folks in line, even more so during the slower second weekend. “It’s a lot easier to get into movies and the screenings that you want,” said Shelton. “And you can walk down the sidewalk.”

Christy Karras is a Seattle-based freelance writer.

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