You haven't *really* experienced Sundance until you've trudged through eight blocks of human gridlock on Main Street, stuck behind three heavily Ugg-ed out 19-year-old girls intent on topping one another with tales of encounters with actors 4-6 times their age. (Examples: "I can't BELIEVE I saw Anthony Hopkins!"; "Remember that time I took a picture with Colin Firth? Ohmigodialmostdied!!!") Wait, scratch that: you haven't *really* experienced Sundance until you're distracted from all of the above by the sight of a respectable journalist exiting the Lean Pockets Hospitality Lodge* weighed down with three or four canvas bags full of swag. This is what Main Street is all about, and I'm pretty sure its why Robert Redford and Geoff Gilmore need to remind us to "Focus on Film" at the biggest film festival in the States. I've never been to Park City during the off-season, but it seems a lot like any other slightly-sleepy resort town, where mom-and-pop pizza shops share blocks with ridiculous tchochke emporiums. But the during second two weeks of January, nearly every other storefront is commandeered by a corporation.

ESPN takes over a sports bar; T-Mobile and MySpace team up to conquer an Asian-Fusion restaurant; Delta clears out a local pub and pays for WireImage to use it as a portrait studio. Some companies make their omnipresence felt via random advertising slogans, plastered on buildings but pointing to no visible product (see above). The Festival itself arranges for their official sponsors to take turns taking over the same Main Street club, where mobs line up to collect swag from Motorola, Turning Leaf and Krups. Some brands put up a discrete sign in a second-story window and hire a goon to keep the rabble out; this afternoon, I was denied access to both the PREMIERE Magazine Lounge, and the Luxury Lounge Hosted by PEOPLE. Meanwhile, the folks at the New York Lounge (hosted by the Bloomberg-established agency to lure film and TV productions to the state) welcomed me with open arms, offering me bagels with apple butter and tons of tax incentive literature.

Last year, I made it a policy to avoid Main Street at all costs -- if you have a press pass, almost everything you need to do happens at the Yarrow Hotel, the Holiday Village theater, or the festival headquarters at the Marriott, so there's really no need to brave the insane Main Street crowds. I decided to bend my own rule this afternoon in order to stop by a party at The Village at the Lift thrown by the folks at SXSW Film. Unfortunately, I never made it there. After completing my treacherous thirty-minute trek from the shuttle to the party location, I arrived to find the security guard at The Village was barring entrance to anyone not carrying a hard-copy of the invitation. As the emailed invitation didn't specify "print this out and bring it with you or they won't let you inside," I was not the only person having trouble getting in. I stood around with a handful of other pissed-off potential partygoers for a few minutes, and then gave up.

Later, I had a chance to talk to Andrew Herwitz, former Miramax acquisitions chief and current head of the The Film Sales Company. Herwitz is here repping Waitress, the romantic, semi-magical-realist fable written and directed by the late Adrienne Shelly. I asked Herwitz his opinion on all doomcasting going around regarding this year's acquisition climate. Before I could even finish the question, Herwitz began to shake his head. "It's too early to tell," he told me. "I think every year, on the first day, it's already being talked about as being a bad year. I've been coming here for ten years, and every year it's, 'Oh my god, it's a bad year! There are no films! I can't believe how much they paid for that movie!' I think before people have seen them, there's a sense of gloom and doom that there won't be anything commercial, but it always ends up that there are fantastic movies that find homes."

Now it's early evening, and I'm trying to gather up the energy to hit two more screenings tonight. That will bring the day's movie count to 4, after Sarah Polley's surprisingly weepy directorial debut Away From Her, and Lynn Hershman Leeson's fantastic New Frontier entry, Strange Culture. I hear the must-see screening tonight is The Ten, David "Wet Hot American Summer" Wain's take on the Ten Commandments. According to Some Guy I Met In Line For A Screening, the waiting list for The Ten's midnight premerie "is, like, over 250 people long." To make matters crazier, the powers that be have so far not scheduled a press/industry screening for Wain's film. My plan is to try and catch its final screening, which is next Saturday night, after the masses should have mainly slunk away.

*Name of corporate sponsor changed to protect the guilty. To my knowledge, Sundance and its attendant festivities are not actually sponsored by either Hot or Lean Pockets ... yet.

See Chapter One of Karina's Adventures -