Everything We Experienced at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival

From standing ovations to deeply inspiring panel discussions, we give you an insider's look at this year's return of the in-person Sundance experience.

Sundance Film Festival 2023 at the Egyptian Theatre

Image via Getty/David Becker

Sundance Film Festival 2023 at the Egyptian Theatre

“Have you ever had caviar on a pizza?”

The man, a fellow painfully unfamous guest to this private Park City house party, was rightfully proud of his concoction as he displayed it to a loose circle of us that had formed directly in a perma-busy walkway. We talked too loud, often to the point of distortion, to hear ourselves over A-Trak DJing in the corner next to a man in all black pouring tall glasses of a sediment-boasting red wine I could otherwise not even dream of affording.

But back to the free pizza and caviar, and our purpose for being here. It was a send-off, an expectedly (for me) emotional goodbye to Park City and in-person 2023 Sundance Film Festival proceedings at large. Back in December, I was invited to be a guest of Chase Sapphire at this year’s festival, which marked a return to the full-scale immersions of years past after back-to-back virtual gatherings due to the pandemic.

As I am in possession of a very particular kind of heart, I accepted the invitation with a detectable abundance of earnestness, which I somewhat recently learned to stop apologizing for. In short, gosh I love movies and I love them probably more than I love people.

Saying yes to this adventure resulted in four stacked-to-the-ceiling days of premieres, panels, parties, and passion. The latter, expectedly, was very much the contagious kind and gave me a high I’m still riding as I write this.

Sundance is a lot of things. It’s overwhelming, the good kind. It’s skin-chappingly cold but you don’t care because you’re about to walk into a screening of what may very well become a new favorite. It’s strangers made friends, at least for a few hours, as they all cry or laugh (or both) together at a blurry-eyed midnight screening. It’s caviar on pizza.

Below, get an insider’s look at this year’s festival through the eyes of a first-time (in-person, at least) attendee.

‘A Thousand and One’ screening

Teyana Taylor movie at Sundance

‘Run Rabbit Run’ premiere

A still from Run Rabbit Run is pictured

Director Andrew Durham introduces ‘Fairyland’

Fairyland premiere photo of director and producers

‘Fairyland’ premiere

Fairyland still is pictured

‘Magazine Dreams’ screening

Magazine Dreams film still

‘Eileen’ premiere

Eileen still

Anne Hathaway opens up about personal importance of ‘Eileen’

Anne Hathaway and cast at Sundance premiere

‘Jamojaya’ screening

Jamojaya  screening film still

Director Susanna Fogel introduces ‘Cat Person’

Cat Person director introduces film at Sundance

‘Cat Person’ premiere

Cat Person film still is pictured

Anderson .Paak performs as DJ Pee .Wee at Chase Sound Check

Ahead of his performance as DJ Pee .Wee at this year’s Chase Sound Check throwdown at a movie studio space in Park City, Anderson .Paak was kind enough to give some time to Complex during which he fielded a series of questions in the green room, fresh off signing a heavy stack of vinyl. 

“I’m working on my movie soundtrack and my sitcom theme music collection but it’s gon’ be a whole lot of range and dynamics,” Paak told me when asked what attendees at the let’s-get-fucked-up-a-thon for cardmembers hosted by TAO Park City could expect. “[I’m] gonna pull from a lot of different places. From Snoop to Fleetwood, from A-ha to Prince.”

These words proved quite prescient, as Paak’s set—complete with a drum solo and a generous offering of trumpet mastery from Maurice Brown—touched on those tenets and more to the rosé-swilling excitement of the crowd. 

As for what fans can expect next, Paak confirmed to Complex that a new album from NxWorries would be arriving at some point this year (he says the album is “sounding really good” at the moment) and also touted the continued expansion of his directing palette after helming the “Coast” video last year.

“I’m working on a movie,” he told me backstage. “I wrote a movie starring me and [my son]. I’m just working on getting it off the ground and that’s the big one I’m working on. But also I’m still doing music videos, as well. Gonna shoot some more stuff for the NxWorries album and whoever’s down to hire me, honestly.”

'Infinity Pool' panel at Chase Sapphire on Main

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During a panel discussion housed at the Chase Sapphire on Main space in coordination with the Los Angeles Times, Infinity Pool stars Mia Goth and Alexander Skarsgård both reflected on their first impressions of director Brandon Cronenberg’s script.

As Skarsgård revealed, he first received the script while in production on The Northman.

“It was sent to me when I was in Northern Ireland shooting The Northman,” the actor said. “We were about five months into production, waste deep in mud on a cold windy mountaintop, and then I was sent this script called Infinity Pool and it was gonna be shot on the coast of Croatia. My agent was like, ‘Oh, and the director is—’ and I was like, ‘I don’t care. I’ll do it. I’m going.’”

Also informing Skarsgård’s decision was conversations he had with his friend and star of Cronenberg’s previous film Possessor, Andrea Riseborough.

For Goth, the inaugural script-reading experience was similar one and took place during the New Zealand-set production of X sequel Pearl.

“That was a very intense shoot and we were doing six-day weeks,” Goth said. “This email came along and it had Brandon’s name on it and that right there was what had me intrigued to begin with. And then I saw that Alex was attached and then I read the short synopsis and so on my Sunday off, I opened the script and I got reading and I knew about four pages in that this was gonna be a really wild movie. I knew, I knew from that, really, that it was something I wanted to do.”

‘Infinity Pool’ premiere

Infinity Pool film still is pictured

‘Little Richard: I Am Everything’ screening

Little Richard promo photo is pictured

‘Theater Camp’ panel at Chase Sapphire on Main

theater camp cast photo at sundance

‘Theater Camp’ screening

Theater Camp screen still

D. Smith talks how ‘Kokomo City’ took her "out of the darkness"

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Over at the Acura Festival Village, the Outfest Outpost welcomed a number of filmmakers to the stage for compelling stories of artistic triumph, including some contagiously delivered inspiration from Kokomo City filmmaker D. Smith.

Reflecting on the music industry’s initial reaction to her coming out as trans, Smith recalled how it “didn’t go too well” at first, crediting her eventual feature directorial debut with having revived her creative energy.

“No one called me anymore,” she told the crowd at Sundance. “I did no more music, no one invited me to the studio, no more industry invites. And within two years, I went completely broke. I lost everything. I became homeless with my Grammy plaques and awards and everything with me. I went from couch to couch with all of my friends on the East Coast. Some of them are here to witness that. But Kokomo City, doing that film came to my mind and it’s completely given me a new life and it’s completely taken me out of the darkness and I’m absolutely living in the light right now.”

‘Kokomo City’ screening

Kokomo City film still is pictured

Chef Melissa King menu takeover at Chase Sapphire on Main

‘Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie’ screening

Michael J Fox is pictured in new documentary

‘Shayda’ screening

Shayda film still from Sundance

‘Flora and Son’ panel at Chase Sapphire on Main

Flora and Son cast and crew on the red carpet

‘Shortcomings’ screening

shortcomings publicity still

‘Fair Play’ screening

Fair Play at Sundance still

‘When It Melts’ screening

When It Melts screening film still

‘The Disappearance of Shere Hite’ screening

Shere Hite film still from Sundance

‘Aliens Abducted My Parents and Now I Feel Kinda Left Out’ screening

Aliens Abducted My Parents film still

‘Sometimes I Think About Dying’ screening

Sometimes I Think About Dying film still

‘You Hurt My Feelings’ screening

You Hurt My Feelings movie still from festival

‘Bad Behaviour’ screening

Bad Behaviour film still

‘A Little Prayer’ screening

A Little Prayer cast photo from festival

‘Willie Nelson & Family’ screening

Willie Nelson is pictured at Farm Aid

‘The Pod Generation’ screening

Sundance film still for The Pod Generation

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