Since 1999 I have covered the festival with the local cops. Sundance isn't about the art so much as it is the artists. Who would want tickets to an indie film when you can watch the festival through the windshield of a patrol vehicle?
My host for the evening was Park City Sgt. Vai Lealaitafea. First name pronounced Vi" as in "violence." I never learned to pronounce his Samoan last name and, honestly, he was large enough that I was afraid to try.
As the watch commander for Disneyland on Crack, Vi's job was to oversee a bunch of officers trying to keep the festival safe by reasoning with the unreasonable.
The shift began with a dead guy at a local hotel. Exactly why he was dead was still being investigated when we were dispatched on the most serious call Park City cops face during the festival: illegal parking.
It would be blatant flattery to refer to Park City's collection of streets as a muddle even when it's quiet. When thousands of confused people descend on them during Sundance, a complete breakdown of civilization is just an illegally parked limo away.
Countless vehicles - taxis, limos, airport shuttles, delivery trucks, equipment vans, and celebrity stalking local rides - bumped and scraped for a finite amount of Main Street curb. Clearing the curbs of loitering vehicles was generally easy. Vai's patrol vehicle was equipped with a horn loud enough to blow the hair off a musk ox.
He would coast up behind an offending driver and tap the horn. The back windows of the illegal ride would crystallize and the car would shoot away from the curb, sometimes with the doors still open.
Bad as traffic was, pedestrians were worse. Not only do they not know where they are, they don't know where they're going. By midnight, many of them wouldn't even know who they were. The solution for most was to call the police department or ask a passing cop for directions. "Can you tell us how to get to the Clam Shack? "
NOTE: After much head scratching it was determined that the "Clam Shack" was actually the Claim Jumper, a popular Park City watering hole. It only sounded close to the same if you had a .15 BAC.
But even when pedestrians knew where they were going, they couldn't necessarily get inside once they got there. Mobs of people waited in the night for a claustrophobic spot in any of the local party scenes.
Since it was freezing and many festival-goers were dressed in a style known locally as "horribly immodest," it was understandable that they wanted inside. Or so I thought until I went there myself.
Shortly before midnight, the fire marshal discovered that revelers at a club were shooting off fireworks indoors. Such being contrary to law and good sense, he called in the police to shut the place down.
I followed them in. The club was intermittently lit, murderously loud and packed to the rafters. Calling it a dance club was like calling a can of sardines an aquarium.
The fire marshal's news did not go over well. Revelers booed the concern for their well-being and called for the music to resume.
Public safety during Sundance is a delicate balancing act. You have to weigh how many inebriated people will die if the place bursts into flames against how many will perish if you force them out into the cold.
In the end the fire marshal and the cops confiscated as many fireworks as they could and then we went back outside where it was public and safe.