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Sundance: Wanna Avoid “Festival Flu”? Skip the Afterparty



Come January, festival attendees are forced to grapple with an anxiety-inducing question: How do I stay healthy at Sundance?

To many, the answer is a mix of precautionary measures like generous sleep, vitamin supplements, packets of Emergen-C tucked in every coat pocket, no booze and extra water. To others, it’s a trick question. “You don’t,” says TriStar president Nicole Brown with a smile. The veteran exec, who has made the trek to Park City many times, offers that it’s best to hit Main Street knowing that you’re most likely to board a return flight with extra baggage. “You’re going to come back with the sniffles.”

Kleenex aside, a still-burning pandemic mixed with flu season and threats like respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, seemingly has industry insiders more focused than ever on avoiding the dreaded “festival flu” (and of course, it’s not just festivals that are vulnerable , as the awards circuit has also seen several stars having to bow out of festivities due to COVID).

Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker is prepared and says he plans to wear a mask during festival screenings. “I still do that in every movie theater as well as Broadway theaters, too,” explains the longtime fest regular. “It’s become a habit that I know is worth continuing.” Barker takes additional precautions. He packs supplements like vitamin C and zinc and pours lots of water. “Get lots of sleep,” he adds. “And don’t drink. Don’t drink — that’s the thing.”

Gersh literary agent Jason Klorfein’s plan looks pretty similar. “I like to go to the Fresh Market and get a bag full of clementines. It’s vitamin C, and I can keep a few easily in my coat pockets for a few days without them going bad,” Klorfein says. “Definitely planning on drinking less and going to bed earlier, but that’s due to age as well.”

For Klorfein and many industry attendees, the pace of the festival and the pressure of business deals, client meetings and screening commitments demand that they stay healthy. In addition to the sleep, supplements, clementines and N95 and KF94 masks, insiders report relying on hydration techniques — including IV and injection therapy treatments offered by local clinics like The Vitamin Bar, Peak Medical, Park City Medesthetix and Prime IV Hydration & Wellness — to keep up with the challenging schedule. On offer are B-12 shots, vitamin and mineral drips, electrolytes and even oxygen therapy.

Even with such trendy options available on the ground, one industry insider tells THR that she opted to skip this year’s fest altogether. “When you commit to attending events these days, like a festival, you have to weigh all these factors. Because of COVID and all the others [illnesses] in play, you have to consider that if you get sick and are forced out of commission for such-and-such time during a busy awards season, is it worth it? For me, this year, I can’t take that chance.”

But Sundance officials are prepared to offer a safe environment for the thousands of film-lovers and artists they are welcoming back. On the festival’s official website — under the How to Fest section labeled Health & Wellness — it lists the policies in place for this year. Face masks are “strongly” encouraged for all individuals in all official festival locations. Theaters and venues will provide free disposable masks on-site, free for the taking, alongside hand sanitizer stations. All of camera reporters and journalists on premiere red carpets will be required to wear face masks while working.

It is also strongly recommended that all attendees are vaccinated and boosted with up-to-date shots, and that includes flu vaccines. It is recommended that guests be tested for COVID-19 prior to joining the festival in person and weekly while in attendance. Sundance staff and volunteers will be required to wear masks and test more frequently.

Also, the fest is officially discouraging any unnecessary physical contact as well as recommending that attendees cut back on shaking hands. While it may not be necessary physical contact, this is definitely mood boosting: The University of Utah’s health department will offer chair massages and is hosting yoga sessions at the fest headquarters at the Sheraton Hotel.

One Sundance insider offered her tips. “Get sleep so you are fresh to watch a day full of screenings, eat real meals — not just finger foods at parties — and I plan to wear my mask everywhere,” relayed Kim Yutani, director of programming for Sundance.

Industry veteran Kevin Iwashina will be present with a list of remedies that don’t involve IV drips. The head of documentary at Fifth Season — which is presenting such fest titles as AUM: The Cult at the End of the World and Going Varsity in Mariachi — protects his immune system in a pragmatic way. “It’s all about extra hydration, warm ears, warm feet and waterproof, not water-resistant [clothing],” says Iwashina, who first attended Sundance in 1999. “And skip the afterparty — no one who wants to remain healthy and alert needs an afterparty.”

This story first appeared in the Jan. 18 issue of The News84Media magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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