Interview with Festival Director Jonathan Martin (FilmQuest Festival)

One of MovieMaker Magazine’s 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee, FIlmQuest celebrates the majesty of genre filmmaking in the realms of fantasy, horror, sci-fi, and the beyond. Awarding filmmakers in 2015 with over $30,000 in awards and prizes, including the coveted Cthulhu Trophy, the festival continued to become a hotbed of the very best in genre filmmaking in the world, showcasing incredible talent, creating new friendships and collaborations, and proving to be a must-stop destination for filmmakers.

Founded in 2014, FilmQuest has been designed specifically to cater to the empowerment of the filmmaker through various events, awards, swag, connections, and more. In creating the festival, we thought long and hard about what it is that makes a festival great. We asked ourselves the tough questions. What we’ve come up with is, we believe, a festival experience that is the kind most filmmakers dream about.

www.FilmQuestFestival.com

filmquestposter.jpgInterview with Jonathan Martin: 

Matthew Toffolo: What is FilmQuest succeeding at doing for filmmakers?

Jonathan Martin: I think for those that know FilmQuest, they know about our FilmQuest Cthulhu Trophy. It’s a glorious award, that has grown in prestige in a short time. But that’s the idea. We wanted to create an award that IS prestigious, because we want filmmakers to feel proud about their achievement in winning one (or being nominated), and to really make an award that matters. So we’d say that in a very short amount of time, we’ve been able to successfully create a festival that means something to a filmmaker when they put that laurel of “Official Selection” on their poster, banner, or trailer, and that if they are fortunate enough to win a Cthulhu, to have an award that will remind them of the significance of their work and achievement for years to come.

We’re providing filmmakers a quality event as well, which we detail quite a bit in the next question. But the quality goes beyond parties, panels, etc. It goes to the quality of our selections. One thing we’ve gotten quite a lot of praise for in our first two years is the overall quality of the Official Selections. But that’s not for us to be proud of, it’s the filmmakers. Because they can know that they’re in the company of other quality, talented filmmakers that they can have no hesitations in wanting to collaborate with. It harbors a community of growth, excellence, and also, I personally believe, advances filmmaking in general.

In 2015, we were one of MovieMaker Magazine’s “Top 50 Film Festival Worth the Entry Fee.” It’s a testament to what we’re trying to do as a festival, and our filmmakers. We don’t take the endorsement lightly, and when MovieMaker’s writer Greg Hamilton came, he said “In the short weekend that I visited FilmQuest, I received a good taste of what they had to offer. The variety, creativity, and production quality of the films impressed beyond my expectations and helped banish the notion that genre events are somehow less serious than traditional film festivals.”

And I feel Greg really hits on something there with the idea that genre events can somehow be less serious than a traditional festival. That’s what we’re really succeeding at here. By showcasing the best of the best, and doing so at a great venue that allows it be seen in its prime, and by taking these films seriously in our presentation and respect, we’re proving that genre films are serious, that they are high-art, and that the people behind them are just as important to watch as anyone else you’d see at any of the major festivals. We’re bringing prestige to the proceedings, and that’s what I feel we’re achieving and bringing to our filmmakers so far.

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

JM: Without doubt, your’e going to see (often times a premiere) some of the very best independent genre films in the world today. You’re truly going to find several films that you love, and make lasting friendships with the filmmakers and audiences that see the films with you (or that see your film!). All will be witnessed in a state-of-the-art, stadium seating theater that is Utah’s #1 cinema, both in size and audience attendance.

Next, you’re going to get the press. We have red carpet interviews, press interviews, and more. You’re going to get the celebrity guests from our grand jury. And we don’t separate you. We have an open environment. So you’re not only connecting with fellow filmmakers, but the press, celebs, and more. We often talk about the FilmQuest family, and that’s exactly what you’re going to find at FilmQuest. It’s a GIANT, ever expanding round table, and everyone has a seat open to them.

You’re going to get workshops and panels, that FilmQuest filmmakers are also invited to actively participate in. Two or our workshops already planned are a film analysis and breakdown of Hitchcock’s Psycho, done by UVU film Professor Alex Nibley. The second will be an interactive event/workshop that is a live cast reading of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars.

Then you got the events and parties. We’re planning no less than 4 big parties and events, including the big opening and closing night parties, the FilmQuest Cthulhu Awards show (already perhaps one of the most coveted awards amongst genre festivals), and our still secret 30th Anniversary screening of a beloved 80’s genre classic with appropriately themed party and red carpet. We’re also planning on showcasing a rock opera, dancing, and more.

Ultimately, FilmQuest is a celebration of the filmmakers, their films, our audiences, and everything in between. So we encourage everyone to come not just for a day or two, but for the entire festival!

MT: What are the qualifications for the selected films? 

JM: Our qualifications are fairly simple. First, and foremost, the project needs to be a genre film. Unlike other genre festivals, we don’t believe in the strictness of the term. We believe in the spirit of genre cinema. It’s not just a subject matter, but a mood and a feeling.

Second, and it’s the rule all festivals should more or less follow, the film’s got to be good. Yes, everything is subjective, but good filmmaking has many common grounds: Good storytelling, good cinematography, good pace and editing, good sound, etc. You start lacking in any one of these categories, and your odds of getting into the festival start to diminish.

Third, and incredibly important, we have to ask if our audiences are going to enjoy the film. While we may find something weird and wonderful and ultimately program it, we also have to ask if it will go beyond what are audiences will enjoy. So we have to balance out and judge whether or not a filmmaker’s film will appeal to an audience and sell tickets to FilmQuest.

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

JM: I would agree with this idea. While not every film is for FilmQuest, the same as not every film is for Sundance, Tribeca, etc., there is still a festival out there for every film. At least that’s the general idea, for make no mistake, there are definitely films and screenplays that are submitted that go beyond anyone’s ability to program them due to an overall poor product.

But I do think filmmakers need to be realistic about their films. If you make a genre piece, don’t submit to all the big, major festivals that don’t really highlight genre films and then act surprised when you don’t get accepted. Festivals have their themes, their goals, and their objectives. So be aware of that and do your research. If you also have a piece that you feel is adequate, that you know deep inside maybe isn’t on the same level as other films you’ve seen, it’s about being honest and submitting your project to festivals you feel may provide you a spotlight.

However, there are definitely films and filmmakers get hosed by festivals that aren’t clear about their objectives, are sporadic in their tastes, and more so. There’s some pretty major tests that do this, even in the genre or niche festivals. It’s almost as if they emphasize weird and offbeat, rather than skilled and talented. And I think that can be extremely frustrating.

With us at FilmQuest, if we see the talent, if we see the skill, and if we see a great project, we want it. While we may not be able to take everything we want, we put quality above all else, and through that, we feel we reward our audiences and filmmakers more than many other festivals as a result.

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

JM: To conquer our enemies, to see them driven before us, and to hear the lamentations of the women….

I know you wish that’s what it really was! But no, really, the number one thing is to create a festival of prestige that truly does serve as a landmark stepping-stone for the careers of our filmmakers. To create a home and family for them and us, wherein we can pool from each other and create lasting relationships. Festivals at the end of the day need to benefit a filmmaker’s future, and that’s our top priority.

But we do this through creating an atmosphere and environment that is conducive to that. And that takes our team a lot of hard work and talent, that is always done out of respect for our filmmakers, their films, and our audiences. So we showcase the films in a state-of-the-art theatre that the films deserve, and provide opportunities for our filmmakers through workshops, panels, and events. Finally, we bring them all together with our audiences, creating the FilmQuest Family that we hope lives on beyond the festival, and grows with each year.

MT: How has the festival changed since its inception?

JM: The biggest change really is how quickly we’ve grown. We show more films than other festival in the state, including Sundance, and we last 9+ days. So we’ve really taken on the challenge of making a serious genre fest in Utah.

However, we’ve also trimmed here or there, as we’ll be cutting our commercials and web series programming after this season. We’ve cut ties with some past partners while bringing in new ones. In our first year, we hosted half our festival at a convention center in conjunction with a partner, and we definitely won’t be doing that again.

Really, the themes and identity of FilmQuest haven’t changed much at all as we feel we created a good thing upon FilmQuest’s inception. However, make no mistake, we’re definitely looking for ways to improve, trim the fat, bring in new partners and distribution opportunities for our filmmakers, create a better event for our audiences, and more. We’re always thinking bigger and better, and so we don’t ever want to be caught resting on our laurels.

MT: Where do you see the festival by 2020?

JM: To be blunt, it is our open goal to be one of the 4 major fantastic film festivals in the world, in the same breath and conversation as Sitges, Fantastic Fest, and Fantasia. We want to be a major player, and anticipate being so.

We fully anticipate and believe we’ll have discovered, premiered, and launched the films and careers of future superstars, actors, and open the doors for films we screen to find mass appeal. In fact, after just two seasons, we’ve had several of our films that we either premiered or screened get a distribution deal, POV release, or even a theatrical deal since they played at FilmQuest, and those numbers are only going to increase.

In 2015, we were named as one of MovieMaker Magazine’s “Top 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee”, and that’s unheard of for a genre festival entering only it’s second season at the time. So we work hard to back up what we say we want to do and follow-through with that.

We definitely, absolutely, 100% take the festival game seriously and want our filmmakers to know that FilmQuest takes them seriously, and we are fully committed to being a launching pad for your career that adds prestige to you and your film’s name.

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

JM: It’s tough to say which of these two films I’ve seen the most, but without doubt, it’s either Big Trouble in Little China or Ghostbusters. Little China was my sick movie growing up, and I’d literally watch it 3 times a day, any day I got sick. I really can’t fathom how many times I’ve seen each. At least 50 times apiece. Easy. And yes, I do think the remake/reboot of Ghostbusters looks like a big, awful cartoon… but shamefully, I’ll still see it and reserve final judgement until I do so.

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

JM: A singular, collective voice and style that is unmistakable, yet endlessly undefinable.

MT: How is the film scene in your city?

JM: When I think of film here in Utah, I don’t think of any one city, but Utah as a whole. Utah has one of the better incentive funds in the country, and as such, actually is one of the top 10 filmmaking states in the country. There’s a whole lot of talent, young talent especially, that I believe will be doing bigger things in the future. You’ve got BYU, UVU, and the U of U and their programs, you’ve got brand new, state-of-the-art film studios in Park City, and what is now known as the next Silicon Valley, the Silicon Slopes, in Utah Valley. So tech is booming here, and the film scene is growing.

Utah actually has its own awards, the Utah Film Awards (an IMDB awards listed event), that not many states can boast. We’ve got Sundance and Slamdance, our own FilmQuest in the summer, and more. Honestly, Utah is one of the great hotbeds for film, with unmatched locals and vistas for filming, a right to work state, and more. There’s also no less than 3 tv series and 4 feature films being filmed in Utah as we do this interview. So you can say I’m bullish on our state as a filmmaking hub.

So with that, I’d love to invite everyone to come out to FilmQuest June 17-25th. Come tour some of the facilities out here, scout for your next film, meet local and out-of-state filmmakers, and make a connection that will influence and inspire you for your filmmaking careers!

****

Jonathan Martin BIO: A professional film producer and director, Jonathan graduated with a B.S. in Business Entreprenuership from Utah Valley University. He is best known for creating and directing the most awarded horror short film of all-time, An Evening with My Comatose Mother, winning 76 festival and industry awards in the process. Since
2011, his production company, Bohemian Industries, has won over 100 festival and industry awards.

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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 Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

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