January 18th, 2009
03:34 PM ET

Obama trumps Sundance

The atmosphere at Sundance this year seems more subdued than normal. Not somber, just a little less feverish than usual. I think all the excitement over the inauguration of a new president has taken some of the wind out of the sails of festival-goers. The Hollywood types who come here are used to being the center of the universe—or feeling like they are. But they’re playing second fiddle to Barack Obama this time. It feels like a comeuppance of sorts.

The economy may be the other reason the festival seems less festive this year. Sundance veterans are all talking about how much quieter the town seems. The restaurants, usually packed to overflowing, have empty tables. You can get a cell signal here—usually there are so many industry-ites clogging the airwaves you can’t get a call out—your cell squawks “call failed” or “circuits busy” at every turn. But not this year.

Interestingly enough, festival founder Robert Redford is pleased with the decrease in traffic. At his opening day press conference he admitted he felt it was a good thing that fewer people are in town. He has long railed against celebrities who come to Park City to party and revel and could hardly be lured into a theater if their lives depended on it. Marketers set up “gifting suites” and “luxury lounges” to swag the stars (and attract the media). But there seems to be less of that going on this year. Or maybe the stars are just being more discreet—afraid to parade around with shopping bags stuffed with freebies in this period of hardship for ordinary folks.

Welcome to Sundance ’09 — maybe a place where, after all, film comes first.

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