Utah-made film by local filmmaker showcased as Sundance returns to in-person festival

Jan 19, 2023, 9:04 PM | Updated: Jan 23, 2023, 4:46 pm
Jake VanWagoner...
Utahn Jake Van Wagoner talking about his Sundance Film Festival film on Jan. 19, 2023, the festival's opening day. (KSL TV)

PARK CITY, Utah — Filmmakers from all over the world are congregating in Utah, thrilled to have a project that is part of the Sundance Film Festival — the most important independent fest on the planet.

For Utahn Jake Van Wagoner, who lives in a small, nearby community, living the dream couldn’t get more local, especially considering the scope of the worldwide festival. His film “Aliens Abducted My Parents and Now I Feel Kinda Left Out” might not be what people imagine a typical Sundance film to be like and he might not be the stereotypical director either.

While publicists, actors, cinematographers and producers fly in from everywhere, the fest is is Van Wagoner’s backyard, a shorter drive than most people’s daily commute.

“Living in Utah, I know about the Sundance Film Festival. I’ve never actually been here, ever,” Van Wagoner said. “So having a movie here at Sundance…it’s literally like the dream for a filmmaker.”

Egyptian Theater at Sundance Film Festival on Thursday, Jan. 19,2023. (KSL TV)

A phone call in the middle of night broke the incredible news to him while he was in Ireland with another film project. He called his crew and fellow filmmakers to wake everybody up and to share the good news. Actors Will Forte and Elizabeth Mitchell are the best known of the cast and it never hurts to have known faces in a film, even at this independent festival.

“It was kind of a long shot for us to put the movie into Sundance. Our movie was independent and it was quirky and it was fun so we felt like we had a shot,” he said.

In a festival that narrowed 15,855 submissions into 110 selected features, he has already beat the odds.

Van Wagoner will see the film — with an audience that isn’t friends and family — for the first time at its premiere Friday in Salt Lake City at the Broadway theaters. Then it plays for the first time in Park City on Saturday. All the film’s screenings are listed on it’s festival page.

(L-R) Thomas Cummins as Young Calvin and Director Jake Van Wagoner on the set of the sci-fi/comedy, ALIENS ABDUCTED MY PARENTS AND NOW I FEEL KINDA LEFT OUT, a Jespers Comet Films, LLC release. (Steve Olpin and Jespers Comet Films, LLC.)
(L-R) Elizabeth Mitchell as Vera and Kenneth Cummins as Evan in the sci-fi/comedy, ALIENS ABDUCTED MY PARENTS AND NOW I FEEL KINDA LEFT OUT, a Jespers Comet Films, LLC release. (Courtesy of Jespers Comet Films, LLC.)
(L-R) Jacob Buster as Calvin and Emma Tremblay as Itsy in the sci-fi/comedy, ALIENS ABDUCTED MY PARENTS AND NOW I FEEL KINDA LEFT OUT, a Jespers Comet Films, LLC release. (Courtesy Steve Olpin and Jespers Comet Films, LLC.)
(L-R) Thomas Cummins as Young Calvin and Will Forte as Cyrus the sci-fi/comedy, ALIENS ABDUCTED MY PARENTS AND NOW I FEEL KINDA LEFT OUT, a Jespers Comet Films, LLC release. (Courtesy of Jespers Comet Films, LLC.)
Utahn Jake Van Wagoner talking about his Sundance Film Festival film on Jan. 19, 2023, the festival's opening day. (KSL TV) Park City on the first day of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. (KSL TV) Egyptian Theater at Sundance Film Festival on Thursday, Jan. 19,2023. (KSL TV)

The film is not only a film by a Utah resident, with some Utah actors that filmed in Utah around Park City and in Wasatch County, it’s family friendly too.

“It’s fun to have a movie here that you can watch with your family and everyone from all ages and everyone leaves the theater feeling good,” he said.

After two years of church service, Van Wagoner headed to Utah Valley University for the film program there. He still performs as an actor and the road to directing a Sundance movie is full of jobs on film sets as he worked his way up, but premiers and being accepted into Sundance in the first place are massive milestones in his career.

Van Wagoner has worked with Forte, probably best know for “Saturday Night Live,” previously and said he is “the best human” who wants everybody to succeed and live their dream. The good wishes may be working for Van Wagoner.

He isn’t alone in chasing cinema dreams in 2023. The festival still happened the last two years online, but in 2020 it was one of the last big events before COVID-19 came to the U.S.

Sundance festival sign snow

Park City on the first day of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. (KSL TV)

For this year’s return, 15,855 submissions were narrowed to 110 feature films representing 37 countries. There are 45 first-time filmmakers in a wide array of content categories including a wide selection of documentaries.

While much of the festival screens in Park City, still the location most identified with the festival, Salt Lake City also has a significant profile of screenings. Films also screen at the Sundance Resort in Provo Canyon and Jan. 24 – Jan. 29,, films screen online too. (See the list of film venues at the end of this story)

To find a film to view, visit the Sundance program guide and  filter by category, genre, interest, location and accessibility, date and time.

PRO TIP: Documentaries are nearly always a solid and satisfying choice.


While all ticket packages are sold out, individual tickets remain. One tried-and-true method to watch films in by standing in wait-list lines. Viewers have not gone through the ratings system so it is left to viewers to ensure a film is appropriate for all viewers.


Ticket holders are asked to arrive at screenings 45 minutes before start time and must be in line 15 minutes before a film’s published screening time. All tickets are digital and all have a waitlist that opens on the Sundance 2023 mobile app free at app stores.

  2. CHOOSE a film and two hours before the screening, the eWaitlist will open and you can join or see the countdown clock until it opens
  3. GET YOUR NUMBER for the waitlist
  4. JOIN THE LINE at the theater at least 30 minutes before the screening. The line will be arranged by number
  5. PAY for your ticket as you are seated, cards only, no cash

You can also cancel your number if your circumstances change, helping those who are in person. If you need more details, visit Festival.sundance.org.


Starting Jan. 24 you can watch films on your device or browser, through 11:55 p.m. on Jan. 29. There is no limit on when short films are viewable but once started features leave five hours and indie episodic have 12 hours. This does include Q&A sessions with filmmakers for a selection of live in-person feature film screenings, subject to availability.

Visiting Festival.sundance.org to read in more detail about viewing online films, requirements for watching and view the technical requirements before purchasing tickets.


If you choose online films, where they play in person doesn’t matter much. To see them in person, know it’s likely to be easier in Salt Lake City than Park City or Sundance Resort, but that isn’t always true.

Park City probably has more of the famed Sundance atmosphere with lounges and peripheral parties or events around the film festival. It also has the alternative Slamdance Film Festival that has played with the more famous fest for decades now. It also features online options.


Using the free and convenient shuttle system is a must here. Locals trying to park will not have a great time or, will find it expensive. During the last in-person festival, more than 116,800 people visited. While that can be crowded in Salt Lake City, it can be prohibitive in Park City. Walking is an option too. For more details about the free lots and shuttles, visit here at Festival.sundance.org.

Eccles Theater, 1750 Kearns Boulevard
This massive theater adjacent to Park City High has hosted its share movies that left the festival to go on and win wide acclaim with actors, Jennifer Lawrence for example, who have gone on to become icons.

Egyptian Theater, 328 Main Street

This iconic theater is the Sundance social media photo-op destination.

Holiday Village Cinemas 1, 2, 3 and 4, 1776 Park Avenue

Library Center Theater, 1255 Park Avenue

Park Avenue Theater, 1800 Park Avenue

Park City main box office, 136 Heber Avenue

Prospector Square Theater, 2175 Sidewinder Drive

Redstone Cinemas 1, 2, 7

The Park, 950 Iron Horse Drive

The Ray Theater, 1768 Park Avenue

Spacious and new

Salt Lake City

Broadway Centre Cinemas 3, 6, 111 E. Broadway

Grand Theater at SLCC, 1575 S. State Street

Megaplex Theaters at The Gateway 1, 2, 3, 6, 8,9; 400 West, 200 South

New in 2023, films here may fill up in one theater and overflow to another, showing simultaneously. Purchase of a ticket does not guarantee you space in the primary theater and when Q&A events take place after film they will be shown in additional theaters but patrons are not guaranteed to be in the Q&A theater.

Rose Wagner Center, 138 W. 300 South

Sundance Mountain Resort

Screening Room, 8841 Alpine Loop Scenic Byway

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Utah-made film by local filmmaker showcased as Sundance returns to in-person festival