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Sundance Preview

Photo: Mark Maziarz, Park City Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau
PARK CITY, Utah -- One widely reported aspect of last year's Sundance Film Festival was the visit by Paris Hilton and the tirade it prompted from Robert Redford, Sundance's founder, about press coverage of her appearance.

But it all just added to the zany atmosphere on the hilly, snow-dusted streets of Park City.

Redford began this film festival in an attempt to shift the industry's focus away from Hollywood's commercialism.

In 1981, he and volunteers began screening quality films and bestowing awards on outstanding works.

To further support the mission, Redford established the nonprofit Sundance Institute to help foster the careers of budding writers and filmmakers.

It's hard to dispute Redford's conclusion that Hilton, when she briefly stole the spotlight by merely attending a nighttime party, was a distraction from the festival's good intentions.

Last year, I missed Paris Hilton -- thankfully -- and as I prepare for my third festival, the sole thing I'm dreading is the superficiality that can at times dampen the fun: the high-fashion consciousness, the air-kissing and inane meetings between "important" people and their fawning wannabes.

Celebrity sightings are an inevitable and usually unremarkable part of Sundance -- in fact, actors and directors often answer audience questions after screenings. (From what I've observed, hearing stars speak directly to an audience can forever alter one's impression of them, for better or worse.)

But for me, the true joy of Sundance lies in the bounty of exceptional movies. I experience the entire 10-day festival as a celebration of independent documentary and narrative films in a picturesque mountain setting.

In both 2005 and 2006, I watched countless short films and at least 30 feature-length movies, and I barely scratched the surface.

I also revel in the thought-provoking forums with industry leaders and the great concerts at the Music Cafe on Main Street.

After a premiere on Thursday night, this year's festival begins Friday, Jan. 19, and continues through Jan. 28. It will show 196 films, including 85 world premieres and 35 by first-time filmmakers. The films come from 37 countries.

Park City Guide

Not everybody comes to Sundance for the films.

Park City is also home to three outstanding resorts with nearly 9,000 acres of pristine terrain for skiing, snowboarding or snowshoeing -- The Canyons , Deer Valley Resort and Park City Mountain Resort . Not surprisingly, the slopes at all these resorts are least crowded during Sundance.

The charm of Park City, a former silver-mining town, is enhanced by its numerous and colorful historic buildings clustered on a few blocks of Main Street, a great place to shop and dine. The town has more than 100 restaurants. Among my favorites are the high-end Southwestern fare at Chimayo and the burgers at the Wasatch Brew Pub , both on Main Street.

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