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Sundance crowd panics at film premier when fire extinguisher explodes

January 19th, 2013 Posted in Opinion

By Katie Swain

PARK CITY—An explosion in the Eccles Theater ticketholder’s tent caused mass panic Friday at the Sundance Film Festival premiere of “Kill Your Darlings” Friday. A fire extinguisher was knocked off the wall and burst open on impact, spreading cloudy, smoky fog throughout the tent.

People began screaming and rushing for the exits, knocking down metal barriers in their urgent dash to escape.

Sundance 2013 Logo“It sounded like a shot going off, or some kind of bomb with all of the smoke,” said Libbie Brunsvold, who was in the tent at the time. “Everyone started coming at me in a big wave and all I could think about was the metal barriers. My main concern was being crushed on those barriers.”

Melissa Siems, another moviegoer who was standing in the back of the tent, said she kicked down the metal barrier as soon as she saw the crowd rushing toward her.

“I knew we were all about to get crushed on those barriers,” Siems said. “I just turned around and kicked hard on the barrier so it was completely knocked down and then ran out the back with everyone else.”

Brunsvold said it could have been a dangerous situation. “If those barriers hadn’t been loose, we would have been in a lot of trouble,” she said. “That’s what saved us from getting injured.”

Nicole Zinman said she saw an elderly man fall down and get trampled by the crowd. “I helped him up,” Zinman said. “He said he was OK, but he’d lost both of his shoes.”

Zinman said she was disappointed in the crowd’s reaction. “It’s sad to see how people react in panic situations,” she said. “It’s like all of a sudden it’s every [expletive] man for himself.”

As people brushed the fire extinguisher chemical dust off their clothes, many still holding their shirts over their noses and mouths to breathe easier, the Sundance Film Festival staff attempted to control the frightened crowd and assure them there was no danger.

It was a “New York overreaction,” one woman said, “everyone’s acting like it’s Ground Zero out here.”

Though many people were unhappy at losing their spot in line, the crowd of several hundred people was quickly quieted and moved into the Eccles Theater to be seated—the whole episode lasted only about 15 minutes.

“This had all the panic and mayhem of a real disaster with none of the death and destruction,” Zinman said.



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