PARK CITY - Being at Sundance is weird. Really weird. This time of year I'm home, where it's safe to dive into the guild and other precursor announcements of the season without thinking about the scheduling of a film festival. But here I am, a first-timer amongst many pros (like the HitFix staff, all of them gamely showing me the ropes). Right smack dab in the middle of the Oscar season.

You see, that's what's kept me out of Sundance in the past. I could have come here any time over the last however many years, but the daunting prospect of a) dealing with the press pecking order (which was ultimately not that big a deal at all), and b) pulling double duty with awards coverage, has always kept me away.

Well, I'm happy to be here and soak up the experience a bit, even if it will be just a short taste-maker trip. It's back to the Los Angeles awards grind on Monday, the day before that magic moment: the announcement of this year's Oscar nominees.

We arrive yesterday afternoon, just ahead of a big snowfall that left the ground covered in powder largely melted by mid-afternoon today. It's milder weather than usual, I'm told. Indeed, the shuttle driver on the way in from Salt Lake City mentioned that December's weather was some of the mildest on record. There's sleet out there now, and hopefully the fluffy flakes will begin to fall again later this evening. I do love the snow.

Another thing that has kept me away from Sundance, by the way, is that I just don't often have the time to investigate the line-up. This isn't a scenario like Telluride or Toronto or any of the fall fests, really, or even Cannes, for that matter, when you have a bead on things you need to see because they come with built-in expectation and such. Sundance is a discovery festival, and God bless it for that. You come here and get to wander unsuspectingly into a screening of "Martha Marcy May Marlene" or what have you, and the films themselves have the added benefit of dodging the hype maelstrom.

It's not to say there aren't Sundance titles with hype, of course. But mostly that hype is organic, built on expectations of the artist. "I want to see the new Quentin Dupieux because I really liked 'Rubber,'" someone might say of "Simon Killer," playing here this year. Then there are the titles studios are already circling that bubble up as ought-to-sees, like "Red Lights," premiering tomorrow night.

Two acquisitions have already been announced, in fact: Strand Releasing for Joachim Trier's "Oslo, August 31" and HBO for Chris Moukarbel and Valerie Veatch's "Me at the Zoo." More will come as the week pushes forward. Then it will be all about building a new kind of hype as all eyes turn to see what the next "Precious" or "Winter's Bone," or if another Christopher Nolan or Quentin Tarantino might be born here.

I'm planning to see the above-mentioned "Red Lights" tomorrow, Stephen Frears's "Lay the Favorite," as well. I'm hoping to get in to Spike Lee's "Red Hook Summer," a big get here, as well as Amy Berg and Peter Jackson's "West of Memphis" (with fingers crossed that it covers terrain not already exhausted by the work of Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky.

Last Toronto fests' crowd-pleaser "The Raid" is on the list, as is Andrea Arnold's "Wuthering Heights" (adored by Guy, loathed by my HitFix colleague Drew McWeeny). And then there's this and that, "Arbitrage," "Smashed," "Liberal Arts," I'll have some decisions to make.

This morning, though, I figured I'd take in Robert Redford's annual state of the Sundance union press conference at the Egyptian Theatre. It's old hat to vets, but a noob like me kind of had to take it in. Redford and festival director John Cooper both declared the state of independent filmmaking "healthy," but Redford qualified that by noting the obvious: "but it's not easy." Check out a highlight reel from that below.

I'm happy to be here. It's a nice interlude, a good way to soak up some novel film vibes before diving back into the tempest next week, and then moving on to the Santa Barbara Film Festival, the rest of the seasons' awards shows and, ultimately, February 26's big climax.

More as it comes to me.

For year-round entertainment news and awards season commentary follow @kristapley on Twitter.

Sign up for Instant Alerts from In Contention!