Beyond the Brand: Sundance’s Swag

PARK CITY, Utah—There’s one simple way to avoid all the branding nonsense that happens here at Sundance: Go to see movies. That’s, frankly, the purpose of being at this film festival, right?

On Main Street, it’s hard to avoid the inundation of companies that spend boatloads of money to make connections to the tastemakers. But occasionally, the product integration can be successful.

You couldn’t really have a conversation at a party without someone extolling the virtues of Uber. The on-demand car service with 30 or so local vehicles users could order up through the app, making getting around a lot easier. Uber also had someone dress up like a yeti, which was a little harder to comprehend.

Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska at a Grey Goose party.


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The Los Angeles foodie restaurant Animal set up a pop-up restaurant at the Village at the Lift, a branding experience offering free food, Stella Artois beer and Tea of a Kind beverages. With Tea of a Kind, you twist the cap on a bottle and suddenly your water becomes tea; surprisingly, these kind of drinks are still fashionable. (Activate water, which uses the same technique, was readily available at Sundance, too.) At Animal, the food was actually pretty good, a surprising feat. Normally, Sundance sustenance comes from Main Street Pizza and Noodles at 2 a.m.

Samsung brought in the French chef Ludo Lefebvre to cook for the casts of movies like “Touchy Feely,” Lynne Shelton’s film about a massage therapist and her goofy dentist brother. (Ms. Shelton’s movie was also feted with a big party paid for by Chase Sapphire that included a performance by the band JJamz.)

Rooney Mara at a ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’ dinner.


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To integrate electronic products into dinner, Samsung put their computer tablets on each table announcing Mr. Lefebvre’s menu. If only his food was as sleek as the tablet: He made cheese cookies as amuse bouches and goat cheese soup for a first course. This is not a festival concerned with calorie intake.

To celebrate the movie “Mud,” Grey Goose invited its star, Matthew McConaughey, his cast and producers to its lounge for dinner. As dessert arrived—this was Nutella mud pie—Mr. McConaughey said that one of the benefits of making independent films and coming to Sundance is that there is so little money involved, the producers just say “go make your movie and then they usually stay away. No one says, ‘Can you lean near the middle?'”

The swagging is not nearly as good as it once was. Most of the bigger brands that gift now like to do it quietly, away from the attention of cameras and the press.

A yeti promoting Uber, an on-demand car service.


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“I have gotten a hat and some makeup, but I didn’t hit the mother lode yet,” said the actress Jennifer Coolidge at Rock and Reilly’s, an outpost of an L.A. Irish pub that is opening in Park City full time in the coming weeks. This was just after a representative from True Religion asked Ms. Coolidge, who appeared this weekend in a movie called “Austenland,” if she might like some jeans.

Some of the more random items being pushed this weekend included an electronic bike at the Kari Feinstein Style Lounge—though only a few of the $3,000 bikes were being gifted; other celebrities got a certificate for half a bike, meaning they’d have to pay for the other half—and a “loose leaf” tobacco vaporizer at the Pax Sundace Cabin off Main. Celebs could wash down these $250 devices with Prévu sparkling liqueur and play

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board games, as Michael Cera apparently did.

Allison Janney and Rosemarie DeWitt at the ‘Touchy Feely’ event.


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Rally.org, an online charity hub, set up a drop box where celebrities could dump the swag they didn’t want so it could be donated to Jon Bon Jovi’s Soul Foundation’s Sandy Relief Fund. Last we checked in the box, there were a few CNN Films T-shirts, a fleece blanket and a bright pink dog bowl.

“There’s a lot of free stuff” at the festival, said Tom Serres, the founder of Rally. “Do you really need those boots?”

Of course, Rally.org had made its own scarves and hats for the festival to market its cause. Shouldn’t they have donated those, too?

“If you don’t want ours, we’ll give it away, too,” said Mr. Serres. “The purpose isn’t the whole world should give us all their stuff. The purpose is if you don’t want those jeans, you could donate them. But it’s not like people who make independent film make a lot of money. So maybe they need the jeans, too.”

AnnaLynne McCord at Catdance


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In solidarity, we dropped a Rally.org scarf and a hat in the drop box.

Across the street at the Sundance Channel lounge, there were more hats being given away. These had little cat ears on them because they had been specially made for Catdance, a film festival of short films put together by Freshstep, a cat litter company. Waitresses wore cat makeup and “90210” star AnnaLynne McCord hosted the party.

Ms. McCord said she was the right choice for the evening because she loves looking at cat videos “when I’m depressed.” This is especially true about watching Scottish fold cats on YouTube. “It doesn’t matter how upset I am, they always make me laugh,” she explained.

And even though she was only at Sundance for 24 hours, she wasn’t going home empty-handed: She was taking a rescue cat, part Maine coon, part “we’re not sure.” But his name, right now, is Beach, she explained, “and he smooshed into my warm cozy sweater and I fell in love.”

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