PARK CITY, Utah — The stars have gone home. Or, that's what they tell me.
It's the sixth day of 2011's 11-day Sundance Film Festival, and the preening, posing, promoting magazine faces have returned to the Los Angeles smog to troll for their next scripts. Those of us remaining just want to see some movies.
"Who is that?" someone asks.
"Is it someone famous?" someone else asks.
A woman tells me he is Denis Villeneuve, a French Canadian director whose film, "Incendies," was nominated for a foreign language Academy Award that very morning. So that's sort of a star. I guess. But then that's the second half of Sundance; you take your celebrity where you can get it. Or, better still, you don't get it at all.
The nation's most iconic film festival is well-known for its North Face-clad starlets, but after a few days those pretty folk go home and are replaced with a less-forbidding, less-chaotic and less-expensive Sundance. Hotels slash prices. Restaurant waits drop below two hours or disappear altogether. Movie tickets become easier to find.
For the second half of Sundance, Park City returns from LA East to charming mountain town of 7,500. Because those movie folk apparently aren't so good on the snow, it also is among the best times of year to ski here, making Sundance's second half an ideal winter escape.
Sundance's back half is so mellow that I arrived in Park City with no movie tickets but a simple plan: stand in line to buy last-minute seats to as many films as I could. And when I needed a break, I'd ski those empty slopes.
On my first day, a Tuesday, I began by heading to The Egyptian, the lone participating theater in downtown Park City (nine theaters in town participate in the festival). Moviegoers already were in line for "A Few Days of Respite," a story of two gay Iranian men who flee to France.
Like most Sundance movies, "A Few Days of Respite" was sold out, which left me to embark on a festival tradition: the wait list. Almost every showing of every movie has one, and it's among Sundance's highest-stakes games. Here's how it works: At least two hours before showtime (up to three for movies in high demand), line up at the theater. Two hours before the movie begins, festival workers pass out numbers based on your place in line.
You're free to leave, but you must be back 30 minutes before the screening to line up again by number (a minute late and you're out). Then you wait while the remaining tickets are sold for $15 apiece. Either you get one or word slowly trickles back that the show is sold out.
For "A Few Days of Respite," I got No. 16.
"Will that get me in?" I asked a Sundance worker.
"It should," he said. "Over the weekend, we were filling up pretty quick. People were bringing entourages of 30, which squeezed a lot of people out."
I took a place behind seven others in an underground gangway. We waited for 40 minutes before another Sundance worker announced she had 10 tickets that the film's director, who would join us in the screening, didn't need. We all got in — free.
"Best wait list ever!" she said. And unlikely to have happened a few days earlier.