Jen Su

Sundance 2024 is always, hands-down, the most down-to-earth film festival – which is why stars from all corners of the globe feel very much at home when they descend upon the snowy peaks of Park City, Utah, in the US.

The Sundance Film Festival 40th Anniversary Opening Gala was held on the first evening at the spacious DeJoria Center in Kamus, Utah.  Actress Kristen Stewart, wearing a black, silver, and white velvet printed pantsuit by Chanel, was presented with the Sundance Visionary Award by actor Jesse Eisenberg.

Kristen Stewart attended the Sundance world premiere of her latest films, Love Lies Bleeding and Love Me, co-starring Beef actor Steven Yeun. Jesse Eisenberg premiered two films, A Real Pain co-starring Succession actor Kieran Culkin – which received the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award in the U.S. Dramatic Category.

Malia Ann Obama attending the Shorts Program 1 on Day 1 of the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Photo by Robin Marshall.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama’s 25-year-old daughter, Malia Obama, made her red carpet debut at Sundance with a short film, The Heart, which she wrote and directed.

Riley Keogh and Jesse Eisenberg

Sasquatch Sunset featured Jesse Eisenberg with co-star Riley Keough (Elvis Presley’s granddaughter) as strange, grunting, hairy “Bigfoot” sasquatches. Apple Original Films’ Girls State featured 500 adolescent girls from Missouri as they came together for a week-long immersion in democracy, building a government from the ground up.

Christopher Nolan receives the inaugural Trailblazer Award at the Sundance 2024 Opening Night Gala. Photo by Stephen Lovekin for the Sundance Institute.

Oppenheimer director Christopher Nolan received the inaugural Trailblazer award, presented to him by actor and close friend Robert Downey, Jr.  Nolan has been the man of the moment, with Oppenheimer leading the Oscar contenders with 13 nominations, including Best Director and Best Picture.

Other stars who attended the festival included singer Lionel Richie, Will Ferrell, Saorise Ronan, Aubrey Plaza, Andra Day, Camilla Cabello, Normani, Kerry Washington, Julia Fox, Jodie Foster, Chrissy Teigen, and Sascha and Jerry Seinfeld.

Filmmaker Naja Pham Lockwood and Jen Su at the Sundance 2024 Opening Gala. Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer, Getty Images. Jen Su
Filmmaker Naja Pham Lockwood and Jen Su at the Sundance 2024 Opening Gala. Photo:  Emily Ann Roth

I’m especially grateful to filmmaker Naja Pham Lockwood, whom I met while waiting for the shuttle from Eccles Theatre to the DeJoria Center.  We got on like a house on fire, chatting about film projects in Asia and beyond.  She introduced me to so many fellow filmmakers and directors, all of whom ended up winning awards at the end of Sundance.

Chatting with actress Kristen Stewart, winner of the Visionary Award at the Sundance 40th Anniversary Opening Gala.   Photo: William Julien.

Despite attending many of the world’s most prestigious red carpets and interviewing global A-listers, I still sometimes feel a tinge of fear when I’m in a room full of powerful industry people.

But the thing about Sundance is that the celebs who are nearly impossible to talk to at the Oscars or Cannes are completely relaxed and at ease in Park City.

Maybe it’s the snow boots and a disdain for anything too formal and frilly – but the casual dress and super-friendly people, in addition to the insightful Q&A sessions after the films, make Sundance my favorite film festival in the world.

When I landed at the airport in Salt Lake City, there was almost six feet (182 centimeters!) of snow.

My Joburg friend Bev picked me up and drove 53 kilometers through an intense snowstorm of giant flakes to Park City, which was about 45 minutes away.

The Salt Lake City (SLC) International Airport serves more than 26 million passengers a year and has been ranked the 6th best airport for summer travel, according to Forbes Magazine.

If you have both TSA Precheck and Clear, you can go in the combined line to speed right through security.  The Delta lounge has a bit of a queue, but it’s worth the wait.

Salt Lake City International Airport features spacious modern wall decor and artistic mood lighting.

The downside of Park City is its high elevation – at 6,936 feet (2,114 meters) above sea level.  If you don’t like to climb up hillsides and go down into valleys, drive on icy roads, or have trouble breathing at high altitudes – then Park City is going to be challenging.  Of course, if you love skiing, snow, and lots of slush and ice – then you’ll be in heaven.

My friend got me some canisters of “Oxygen Boost” (the peppermint ones were refreshing), and I would inhale 10 puffs in the morning and again in the evening, especially because my blood oxygen dropped to around 86 at one point, which was known as hypoxia.

Lots of snow and high altitude in Park City, Utah

My Apple watch monitored my blood oxygen, and by the end of the trip, luckily, I was back to normal.

The other important thing is to stay hydrated and load up on carbs.  If you can give yourself at least a day (or two) to just rest, hydrate, and let your body acclimate to the altitude – that will be much better for you and your cardiovascular system in the long run.  Drinking alcohol also hits you 2-3x faster than at normal altitudes because alcohol reduces available blood oxygen while your body metabolizes each drink.

Try to get some skiing or a hike in between movies – and make sure you allocate plenty of time to navigate the crazy festival traffic on Main Street.

See you next time in L.A. for the Grammys!