PARK CITY, Utah — Some naive souls may think the Sundance Film Festival is their chance to escape from the Hollywood rat race for a while, but it only ends up migrating into the snow-covered mountains of Utah for 10 days. Hotel banquet halls, schools and racquet clubs morph into screening rooms during the day, while local restaurants, bars and even ski lifts become venues for the A-listers and their wannabes at night. The schmoozing storm kicked off Thursday night with the arrival of Jennifer Aniston and the cast of Nicole Holofcener‘s “Friends With Money,” which opened the film festival.

Aniston managed to be both in the limelight and low-key, keeping to herself and castmates Catherine Keener and Joan Cusack at the staid industry after party (held in a library) and speaking to reporters only at the press conference Friday. Other stars slowly began to trickle in that day, but for a few hours, the paparazzi seemed doomed to focusing on the ubiquitous faces of early bird Robert Downey Jr., rockers Good Charlotte and “Dawson’s Creek” alum James Van Der Beek. Lucy Liu arrived not a moment too soon, trailed by Amber Tamblyn, Maria Bello and Scarlett Johansson (here with beau Josh Hartnett, she spent her days snowmobiling while he promoted his film, “Lucky Number Slevin”).

Most of the celebs stayed in that night, noshing at private dinners held in enormous ski lodges in Upper Deer Valley, while a few, such as Kelly Osbourne and Bai Ling (who jetted in together on Ozzy‘s private jet), braved the Main Street fraternity-like frenzy. Saturday night, Amanda Scheer-Demme hosted a party at the retail-tainment/ski complex known as Village at the Lift, which drew party boys such as Donovan Leitch and Scott Caan. The event played out like a scene from a snowy Studio 54: As the flakes blanketed the 19-degree night, Scheer-Demme appeared on the second-floor balcony to scope out the scene and point to the people she wanted to come inside.

This story first appeared in the January 24, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Meanwhile, at a converted yoga studio, Entertainment Weekly hosted its annual bash, where Stephan Jenkins of Third Eye Blind spun the tunes for the night. Just after midnight a few blocks away on Main Street, the Motorola Lounge saw Jessica Biel chatting up Paul Walker, while Sting and Trudie Styler showed up to dance, kiss and cuddle for 10 minutes before popping flashbulbs drove them away. At 3 a.m., the frenzy started anew as Paris Hilton showed up with Stavros Niarchos.

Sunday night, at the premiere of the Edward Norton-Biel period drama “The Illusionist,” Biel waxed poetic on why Sundance is one of her favorite places. “I could never get away with wearing this,” she said, pointing to her down jacket and jeans, “to a premiere in Los Angeles or New York. The whole vibe here is about staying warm and being functional. I didn’t have to squeeze myself into anything a size too small. I got to wear shoes that are comfortable. I’m not wearing so much makeup. I could eat today and don’t have to forgo breathing to wear some little tight number. It’s cool.” Good thing most people followed Biel’s dress code, especially since Coach sponsored a party for the Gersh Agency, which required guests to take a ski gondola to the top of the mountain.

Back in town, at the night’s second red-carpet premiere, Michel Gondry‘s “Science of Sleep,” Gael García Bernal ran the gauntlet solo because co-star Charlotte Gainsbourg hurt herself in a snowboarding accident. Hollywood Life hosted a party at the Barclay Butera-designed Queer Lounge, where Anne Heche and husband Coley Laffoon pushed their way into the front of the VIP line. Inside, Timothy Hutton stood on the bench in the VIP section to see Liz Phair perform, while Dave Matthews opted for the floor seats among the little people. “I’d rather stand here. Everyone is talking back there and I’d actually like to listen to her music,” he said.

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