Advertisement

America Ferrera 'Didn't Know How to Behave' at First Sundance: 'I Stuck My Bare Hand in Snow' (Exclusive)

Zooey Deschanel, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and more share their first and fondest Sundance Film Festival memories

<p>Frazer Harrison/Getty</p> America Ferrera at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 24, 2005.

Frazer Harrison/Getty

America Ferrera at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 24, 2005.

The 2002 Sundance Film Festival, says America Ferrera, was “the first time I ever saw myself on screen.”

It was also, perhaps just as significantly, the Los Angeles native’s first experience with real winter. “I was most starstruck by the snow,” Ferrera, 39, says. “I didn't know how to behave. I stuck my bare hand in a pile of snow and immediately regretted it.”

With Sundance celebrating 40 years of launching Hollywood careers, PEOPLE asked Ferrera, Jennifer Lawrence and more in this week's issue about their earliest memories from the snowy Park City, Utah fest.

Founded with the help of Robert Redford, the Sundance Institute’s annual celebration of cinema has launched hit indies ranging from Little Miss Sunshine to The Blair Witch Project to this year’s Best Picture Oscar nominee Past Lives.

At the debut of her breakout film Real Women Have Curves, which won a jury prize at the 2002 fest, Ferrera remembers celebrating “with a packed audience as they laughed and cried and applauded and then gave us a minutes-long standing ovation.”

Related: America Ferrera Says Her Traveling Pants Costars FaceTimed Her 'as a Group' After Barbie Oscar Nomination

<p>George Pimentel/Getty</p> America Ferrera at Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 24, 2010.

George Pimentel/Getty

America Ferrera at Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 24, 2010.

Adds the newly minted Barbie Oscar nominee: “That moment changed my entire world. I was getting to live out my wildest dreams. I'll never forget it.”

“I love the films that come out of there and I love the kind of audience that it draws,” says Lawrence, 33, of the fest. The Hunger Games star’s Oscar-winning film career began at Sundance in 2010 during the buzzy premiere of Winter’s Bone.

“I remember it being the first time that somebody wanted to interview me and was really interested because they thought I was a good actor, so that stood out,” she tells PEOPLE.

For other indie-film fans, the annual event has created an opportunity to connect with lifelong friends and collaborators. The Don Cheadle–starring Manic, which debuted in 2001, is where Joseph Gordon-Levitt bonded with fellow actor and musician Zooey Deschanel.

Related: The Best Photos from Sundance 2024

<p>Randall Michelson/WireImage</p> Ingrid Oliu, America Ferrera, Lupe Ontiveros, Josefina Lopez and Patricia Cardoso of "Real Women Have Curves" at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival.

Randall Michelson/WireImage

Ingrid Oliu, America Ferrera, Lupe Ontiveros, Josefina Lopez and Patricia Cardoso of "Real Women Have Curves" at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival.

“Zooey had lightened her hair,” recalls Gordon-Levitt, 42. “I know it sounds like a small thing, but it sticks in my memory for some reason. I guess because years later [in 2009], we went back to Sundance together with 500 Days of Summer, so thinking back on that first year, with her looking so different, it stands out.”

“I made the foundation of my career doing indie films, and Sundance was a huge part of that,” Deschanel, 44, tells PEOPLE. “It’s a wonderful place to run into old friends and meet new ones.”

Not that her first experience in Utah was without its hiccups. “I didn’t even know anyone would be taking my picture,” remembers Deschanel. “The only makeup I had with me was one lipstick which I put on my lips and cheeks for all the events.”

She also recalls feeling “super embarrassed watching a kissing scene in the movie with my parents sitting next to me.”

<p> J. Vespa/WireImage</p> Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel at 2001 Sundance Film Festival

J. Vespa/WireImage

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel at 2001 Sundance Film Festival

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.

Chiwetel Ejiofor, whose career got a huge boost when Kinky Boots took Sundance by storm in 2006, remembers acquiring “lots of free weather gear. I still have a pair of boots nearly 20 years later!”

The British star adds, “Although London isn’t exactly a stranger to cold weather, it still all felt very exotic to me. But maybe that was something to do with the people running off to go skiing between screenings.” Ejiofor’s advice for those new to Sundance? “Try not to freeze to death!”

Related: Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart Reunite More Than 20 Years After Panic Room at Sundance Film Festival

For Ejiofor, what makes the Sundance experience so memorable is “the people, the discussions, the (honestly pretty manic) love of films and filmmaking.” 

It’s a sentiment echoed by others, including Ferrera, who says returning to the fest “feels like coming home. And I love seeing it evolve. My favorite addition is the Latinx House that celebrates all the phenomenal Latino talent there.”

Getty The Egyptian Theatre
Getty The Egyptian Theatre

For Gordon-Levitt, Sundance was a “holy grail” even before he began premiering films there. “All the movies I loved as a teenager in the ’90s had come through Sundance. Reservoir Dogs, Swingers, Sling Blade, these little movies that didn’t fit into the mainstream Hollywood box.”

Now, the actor adds, the fest is a “safe harbor” for him. “I remember this joyful feeling that I’d finally arrived where I’d always wanted to be.”

The 2024 Sundance Film Festival runs from Jan. 18 to Jan. 28, screening debuts in Park City and Salt Lake City, Utah.

For more People news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!

Read the original article on People.