Festival Spotlight Friday: Onwards and Upwards with Cinequest 2014

Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, Cinequest Film Festival isn’t shy about its home’s rich history of technological revolution. In fact, as it enters its 25th year in 2014 (opening next Tuesday, March 4 and running to March 16), the festival continues to embrace and tout new innovation in technology and storytelling—highlighting films that “create, innovate, and empower.”

Amongst the powerhouses of Google, Facebook and Yahoo (and with a name that sort of evokes a cheesy video game), the uninitiated might be inclined to pass over Cinequest as just another blip on the tech-frenzied radar of Silicon Valley. But serious moviemakers and movie-lovers will find this festival one of the must-stops on the circuit, with its great block of high-profile premieres and screenings, panels and events. This year’s fest even has a couple of brand-new awards to hand out to industry (film and tech, that is) leaders, from Neil Gaiman to the inventor of the cellphone – including a Media Legacy Award to celebrate significant figures in film journalism (we’re expecting our nomination announcement next year, guys). To us, Cinequest is a melting pot for creativity and ingenuity—reflective in the films it champions and the youthful and inspiring atmosphere it cultivates.

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MovieMaker spoke to Kyle Burt, the festival’s publicity manager, about what attendees can expect to dive into next week. Hopefully it’s anything like whatever’s going on in the above picture (from last year’s fest)!

MovieMaker Magazine (MM): In a nutshell, recount the history of Cinequest. Can you share some memorable moments from last year?

Kyle Burt (KB): Cinequest was founded by a dynamic team of Silicon Valley innovators and film producers. The story of Cinequest is the power of film and creativity to transform lives for the better: bold, visionary—maverick!—artists and innovators that inspire and show youth how to create art and science that improve our world and our future. And it’s the live experiences that bring people together to celebrate creativity and innovation. They connect and empower each other in profound ways.

The festival has grown from 3,000 to 100,000 attendees, including 712 presenting artists and innovators. Cinequest unveiled over 80 world and U.S. premieres last year,  like Wampler’s Ascent, which received a $25K prize. It was about overcoming obstacles to achieve any dream. The fest’s technology focus was 4K Cinema, including 4K filmmaking and the 4K exhibition of restored masterpieces including Taxi Driver and Dr. Strangelove. And we also had very inspiring Maverick Spirit Guest conversations with Harrison Ford and Chuck Palahniuk.

@ BayArea Fashion Week

MM: Technological innovation and how it can “empower, improve and transform” people’s lives is the dominant theme behind Cinequest. How does the festival apply that idea to film?

KB: Cinequest has pioneered in this area for years! Some of the topics it brought to artists before anyone else: the digital filmmaking revolution, internet distribution of features, digital exhibition, mobile cinema, 4K, and much more. Film has always been a technologically based art form from celluloid to digital. Technology doesn’t necessarily makes for a better story in a film, but it does democratize and optimize opportunity.

MM: This year, Cinequest is debuting some interesting new awards—the Maverick Innovator Award and the Media Legacy Award. What was the impetus behind instituting these awards? Can you give us some insight into the selection of the inaugural winners?

KB: At its core, Cinequest has always been the fusion of creativity with innovation. We’ve honored many ‘maverick’ artists (like Harrison Ford, J.J. Abrams, Minnie Driver, Spike Lee, Sir Ian McKellan, and so on), but we wanted to take this year to honor those who utilize technology in a way to improve the lives of others. We think our selections dare to create and innovate with a personal, yet global, vision. Marty Cooper, father of the cellphone, made complete sense as an inaugural recipient – he is one of the very few people who have impacted the entire world! It took him over 30 years to convince the world that we wanted to be connected at all times. And the second Maverick Innovator recipient is actor, filmmaker and technologist Matthew Modine of Full Metal Jacket, who took technology into his hands to bring audiences an entirely new immersive experience when it comes to the behind-the-scenes of filmmaking.

Regarding the Media Legacy Award, without the passion of great film journalists, so many of the films we enjoy and experience would remain unwatched. The Media Legacy Award honors and examines the ongoing impact media has on the life of film, art, and artists. Harry Knowles of Ain’t It Cool News and Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times are this year’s recipients, and we’ve planned special events like moderated conversations, award presentations, and screenings of the works Mr. Knowles and Mr. Turan want to share. And join us on Opening Night for a pre-show award presentation to Eric Kohn of Indiewire.

MM: Cinequest holds a summit for youth moviemaking called Picture the Possibilities. Can you summarize what the program consists of, and what young participants gain from the experience?

KB: Picture the Possibilities is a leadership movement where empowered youth create films expressing visions of a better tomorrow. PTP Youth (in city sessions around the globe) learn the “7 Powers of Creating” program that teaches them how to create anything from art to science. They practice this power by making films, with mentors, on content vital to global youth. After bringing a picture from nothing into reality, they can apply this creative process to other areas of their lives!

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MM: With a really exciting line-up of premieres this year, what screenings would you recommend to overwhelmed Cinequest-goers?

KB: The line-up this year really is compelling. The fest opens this year with a screening of The Grand Seduction, starring Taylor Kitsch and Brendan Gleeson. Our Closing Night event will showcase the first public screening of Joel Surnow’s (of 24 and The Kennedys) first feature film, Small Time, starring Christopher Meloni. Also look out for the world premieres of Return to Zero with Alfred Molina, Minnie Driver, Paul Adelstein and Connie Nielsen; Never, the latest film from the producers of Sex, Lies and Videotape; Friended to Death, starring Ryan Hansen of Veronica Mars; and Sold, executive produced by Emma Thompson and featuring David Arquette and Gillian Anderson.

MM: Cinequest has a reputation for being forward-looking and trend-setting. How is the festival itself evolving towards the future? 

KB: We were proud when Chris Gore’s Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide said you “find the future of film at Cinequest,” and we believe he was spot-on about that. As mavericks, we have sought to always try new ways, and take risks, even if it means falling down – that’s the spirit of innovation and creativity. Hitting a stride and entering our 25th anniversary season, I think you’ll see Cinequest focusing less on legacy and more on the new and the adventurous—the youthful. MM

Cinequest Film Festival 2014 takes place from March 4 – March 16, 2014. Visit their website for more information. All pictures courtesy of Cinequest.

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