Interview with Executive Director Stefanie Malone (National Film Festival for Talented Youth)

NFFTY is the world’s largest and most influential film festival for emerging directors. In 2015, we screened 248 amazing films from the best filmmakers 24 and younger representing 30 states and 25 countries, with over 12,000 in attendance. We provide a first-class festival experience that includes four days of film screenings, parties, networking events and panels. In 2014, MovieMaker Magazine rated NFFTY as one of the top 50 festivals worth the entry fee.

NFFTY 2016 will be held in April 28 – May 1 in Seattle, WA.

Interview with Stefanie Malone:

Matthew Toffolo: What is your Film Festival succeeding at doing for filmmakers?

Stefanie Malone: NFFTY is the world’s largest and most influential film festival for emerging directors. We showcase the best new best new filmmaking talent age 24 and under. NFFTY occurs each spring in Seattle, Washington and includes over 200 film screenings from talented filmmakers and media artists from around the world. Workshops, panel discussions featuring industry professionals, and contests provide educational and networking opportunities for attendees. Filmmakers submit feature-length and short films in narrative, documentary, animation, music video, experimental, and action sport categories. It has been compared to Sundance and Cannes for young filmmakers, and we take that reputation seriously.

Many festivals tend to overlook the potential of a young filmmaker simply because of their age. NFFTY stands apart from those festivals by recognizing the creative talent these individuals really do have and providing them with a one-of-a-kind, first-class festival experience that they won’t get anywhere else. Not only do they get to screen their films to sold-out audiences of hundreds, they get to network with other young people just like them as well as top industry professionals that could help them jumpstart their careers.

I think Kevin Klauber (NFFTY filmmaker and editor of Oscar-winning documentary 20 Feet from Stardom) put it perfectly when he said, “NFFTY is overwhelmingly positive. NFFTY is a perfect test ground for what it’s like to be a filmmaker in today’s world. It’s the most positive festival I’ve ever been to in terms of encouraging creative work.”

MT: What would you expect to experience if you attend the festival this year (2016)?

SM: For starters, you’ll have a chance to see creative endeavors by the next generation of filmmakers. NFFTY is the opportunity to see the next Martin Scorsese or the next Kathryn Bigelow. At NFFTY 2016, we will feature 227 films from filmmakers in 24 countries and 33 US states. We have a variety of genres and some of the most gripping short documentaries in the world.

Opening Night is our biggest affair, kicking off at the world-renowned Cinerama with a red carpet and five short films from NFFTY filmmakers. We then host a Gala presented by Volvo Car USA at the Columbia Tower, the tallest building in Washington state, where the celebration continues.

Some of the highlights of NFFTY 2016 include an incredible selection of documentaries that explore human race, culture and relationship in a screening called “The Human Race” and a closing night screening that (in honor of our tenth festival) explores the power of story through diverse stories called “Around the World in Ten Films”.

Additionally, we have panel discussions like “Get Real: Filmmaking in VR” and a masterclass by Oscar-nominated director Christian Christiansen on navigating the world of independent filmmaking.

MT: What are the qualifications for the selected films?

SM: This year we received over 1,000 submissions from around the world, and I can say that there were many wonderful films that we had to pass over this year. We have an amazing Selection Committee that screens all of the films and provides feedback. Those films then go on to the Programming Committee who reviews comments and films and works from there.

I would say that the biggest factor in getting selected is story. We place higher value on this than on the production quality. With the advancement in accessibility to technology and camera, many people are making films. But what is the story? Where do you take the audience?

MT: Do you think that some films really don’t get a fair shake from film festivals? And if so, why?

SM: I know that we would love to show more films at our festival, and based on the quality of the work that was submitted we had to turn away some really good films this year. We simply have limitations in terms of time and space. This year we had to pass on a lot of quality work and, honestly, it hurts to send those rejection emails. It’s a competitive landscape out there and we do our best to represent great films from around the world.

MT: What motivates you and your team to do this festival?

SM: This is a unique festival that treats these young, creative filmmakers like the VIPs that they are. There is something remarkable about being around young, creative spirits. NFFTY’s filmmakers are supportive, collaborative, and give me hope for the future of film and storytelling. I feel lucky to be surrounded by them, which leaves me feeling refreshed and energized with a renewed spirit of creativity.

MT: How has the festival changed since its inception?

SM: NFFTY grew from a one-day festival in 2007 founded by three teenagers that were hoping to connect young media artists. Today it stands as the world’s largest film festival for young filmmakers (24 and under) that spans four days and has supported over 2,000 filmmakers in its ten years.

Over the years, we have embarked on initiatives to support particular needs in the film community. In 2014, NFFTY created its Young Women in Film initiative, a year-round effort to support young female filmmakers around the world. NFFTY also launched an in-house production company known as NFFTY Creative with the mission of connecting sponsors and brands with the festival’s most promising alumni to work on original branded content projects. The first major project, A Supporting Role, a short documentary earns multiple accolades including ADDY Awards and a Telly Award. These projects and initiatives have allowed the festival to grow a year-round presence with a focus on supporting our young filmmakers.

MT: Where do you see the festival by 2020?

SM: I hope it continues to grow through year round programming, partnerships and a larger global footprint. I would love to see it build upon its educational offerings and unique ways that we can continue to bridge opportunities for filmmakers as they make the leap to the professional world.

MT: What film have you seen the most times in your life?

SM: It would probably be a tie between Annie Hall or Duck Soup. Comedy is good for the soul and I can’t think of anyone funnier than Woody Allen or the Marx Brothers.

MT: In one sentence, what makes a great film?

SM: I think a good film ultimately wrestles with the dilemma: what makes a good life? It can be through the tenderness of a man’s final moments as he grasps onto the cherished memory of Rosebud or through Rick bidding farewell to Ilsa.

This doesn’t mean that every film has to be so grand as Citizen Kane or Casablanca, but that we can experience and share in the human condition and plight — even for a moment — in a film.

MT: How is the film scene in your city?

SM: The film scene in Seattle is growing. We are fortunate to have a strong contingent of talented female filmmakers that rivals the traditional landscape. We are home to two very talented independent directors – Lynn Shelton (Laggies, Your Sister’s Sister, Humpday) and Megan Griffiths (Lucky Them, Eden) and their excellent producers Mel Eslyn and Lacey Leavitt. There is a strong documentary scene in the town as well. There is a host of organizations like NFFTY, Northwest Film Forum, SIFF, Grand Illusion and Three Dollar Bill Cinema that continue to create a thoughtful community for filmmakers and support independent film.

Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Fesival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

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