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.

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.


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 for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

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.