Over the last half-dozen years, the Sundance Film Festival has become as synonymous with swag as it has with the crème de la crème of the indie movie world. But since the global economic downturn, the number and quality of “gifting” stations cropping up around Park City, Utah, in conjunction with the fest have notably declined.
Time was when Sundance was one-stop shopping -- to the extent that accepting free goods and services can be considered “shopping” -- for a range of goods including flat-screen TVs, Las Vegas luxury condominiums, spa treatments and Mexican vacations. And questionable celebrities -- yes, “Hercules” star Kevin Sorbo, we are talking to you -- could be seen walking down Main Street laden with shopping bags, arriving with the kind of seasonal reliability associated with migrating Canada geese. Still, according to one publicist who has a number of high-profile clients (and asked not to be named for fear of alienating those clients), being seen hauling swag is increasingly viewed as a liability by those in the PR biz.
“People don’t want to see them carrying big bags of free tchotchkes,” the publicist said. “The stuff is usually cheap crap anyways. They look like idiots.”
This year, though, the snowboard and apparel company Burton set up its Burton House -- more of an extremely high-tech inflatable igloo, really -- at the base of the runs at the Park City Mountain Resort as an exclusive destination off Main Street for the fest’s movie stars and assorted VIPs. The end game was to dress them for the day head to toe in Burton gear, provide them with a custom-outfitted snowboard and take them up on the mountain with either a Burton-sanctioned local instructor or a member of the company’s pro team -- to establish a meaningful connection with snowboarding. Burton riders Danny Davis and Gabi Viteri were there, as was the sport’s breakout superstar and multiple-Olympic-medal winner, “Flying Tomato” Shaun White, who ripped up the resort’s half-pipe all weekend.
“This is Burton’s natural habitat,” explained the company’s social media manager, Amanda Wormann. “And here’s an influx of people who wouldn’t normally bump into our products. This is a great way to put them together.”
Free snowboard and gear for the day, a lift ticket and a chance to go boarding with the pros? Apparently there are some perks to this celebrity game. And among those who took Burton up on its offer were “Gossip Girl” star Penn Badgley (who appears in the Sundance premiere selection "Margin Call"), the cast of the MTV documentary series “The Buried Life” and Alex Shaffer, who appears in the high school wrestling dramedy “Win Win.”
“Those ‘Buried Life’ guys were doing 360s,” said an admiring Viteri, who rode with them.
Others, including members of the rock group OneRepublic and Nicholas Braun from the Kevin Smith religious horror movie (screening at Sundance) “Red State,” stopped by but didn’t hit the slopes.
It’s a testament to the fact that there are so many movies to see, panel discussions to attend and open-bar events, lounges, suites and lodges associated with Sundance that more celebs didn’t rush over to the Burton House over the weekend. But on Sunday, in an effort to gain penetrating insight into certain perks of the Celebrity Industrial Complex, your correspondent permitted himself to be outfitted by Burton and be taken for a snowboarding refresher course.
Martin Drayton, a 2007 Guiness World Record holder and a U.K. transplant with 25 years of snowboarding-instruction experience, took your correspondent to the top of the hill, where he quickly diagnosed my tendency to try to steer my board using my trailing foot rather than embark turns using my downhill knee.
“Snowboarding should be a lazy man’s sport,” Drayton advised. “Don’t think too much, and let gravity do the work for you.”
Your correspondent wasn’t precisely “shredding” by midafternoon, but he was executing turns more fluidly and carving at an all-time level. The lesson lasted about two hours, and let me tell you dear reader, a guy could get used to this.
Asked if he had seen any Sundance films, Burton rider Davis shook his head. “No movies. But a lot of babes,” he said, breaking into a grin.
-- Chris Lee in Park City, Utah
[Update: An earlier version of this blog post erroneously stated that Penn Badgley does not appear in any Sundance films. He is in the financial drama "Margin Call" which is screening in the festival.]
Photo: "Gossip Girl" star Penn Badgley and pro snowboarder Danny Davis in Park City, Utah. Credit: Burton Snowboards