Cinequest isn’t your average film festival. While it screens films like all the rest, its devotion to spreading the world about cutting-edge technology through a wide variety of panels, forums and workshops—and its history of being an early adopter of those technologies itself—means it tends to leave other festivals in the dust, at least when it comes to once lesser-known ideas like online distribution and digital projection. Now in its 22nd year, this Silicon Valley-based festival has seen innovations it championed early on become commonplace. But it’s not just the festival’s tech-savvy nature that sets it apart. This year, with its Picture the Possibilities program, Cinequest has shifted its focus to “empowering voice through the emerging technologies that… we’ve championed for years,” notes co-founder and director Halfdan Hussey.

Hussey took the time to chat with MovieMaker about how the Cinequest Film Festival—which kicks off this Tuesday, February 28th with its open night screening of Luc Besson’s The Lady and runs through March 11th—has made the transition from championing technology to championing the positive effects technology can have on the world.

Rebecca Pahle (MM): Cinequest sets itself apart by presenting a large number of educational programs—like this year’s Rough Cut and Making an Impact Forums—in addition to its film screenings. Do Cinequest attendees tend to partake in both aspects of the festival? What’s some feedback you’ve gotten on these educational events in the past?

Halfdan Hussey (HH): Cinequest has been known as the place where you discover the future of film. At Cinequest (based in the capital of the Silicon Valley) creativity meets innovation… to empower. Some of our previous Cinequest firsts in pushing the digital filmmaking and distribution revolutions are:?

  • First film institute to provide a comprehensive U.S. distribution solution, including DVD, Internet, TV and select theatrical releases. (2006)
  • First independent distributor to engage in direct Internet-to-TV distribution.
  • First in the world to enable online downloads of feature films in DVD/HD quality. (2004)
  • First to present an online festival in conjunction with a live festival, allowing film lovers around the globe to view festival films, which is now a common festival practice. (2004, Cinequest 14)
  • First festival to bring short films to handheld mobile devices. (2004, Cinequest 14)
  • First festival to showcase 24p cameras and workflow. (1998, Cinequest 8)
  • First festival to showcase solid-state filmmaking technology. (2006, Cinequest 16)
  • First festival to accept all digital film formats and to project digitally on all screens. (2000, Cinequest 10)
  • First festival to showcase the media delivery capacities of QuickTime. (1997)
  • First festival to create and implement its own server system for digital content. (2005, Cinequest 15)

Now that the digital filmmaking and distribution revolutions have occurred, Cinequest shifts its focus to empower voice around the globe through access to technologies and creativity. At the festival, artists, innovators and audiences interact in our Forums to share ways to empower voice and connect expression with audiences and leaders.

MM: This year’s lineup features a variety of international films in addition to U.S. releases. Is there anything in particular you look for when deciding which films to program? Does the decision-making process change at all when it comes to international films, which are especially hard for U.S. audiences to see outside the festival circuit?

HH: When program director Mike Rabehl and his team decide on films to program, [they look] for universal themes and stories that are personal, unique and entertaining. Like any experience, we want to see stories that stand out and stay with us for long after seeing the films, because that is the kind of event we want our audience to walk away from—something they will discuss and remember [that will] keep them ravenous to take in the next discovery.
We don’t find the process of wanting to find that special story to be any different for domestic vs. international films, and we do try to hold a film to the same standards as the next one. When selecting the final international lineup, we often select films that look at the world from distinctive perspectives, or perhaps view relatable themes and emotions from a different culture’s viewpoint, but we continue to look for those films that carry their audience on a journey worth taking.

MM: With the emphasis it places on moviemaking innovation, it must be very important for Cinequest itself to be on the cutting edge of emerging trends. How do you see the festival evolving in the coming years?

HH: Our work now gains a more global scope and focuses on empowering voice through the emerging technologies that… we’ve championed for years. This being said, new innovations still emerge at breathtaking rates in the Silicon Valley from the integration of social media in film marketing and new film/TV experiences. We’ll continue to showcase the ones we find exciting, helpful to artists and audiences and [on the] leading edge.

MM: Are there any films or events at this year’s festival that you’re particularly looking forward to?

HH: I am most excited about the Cinequest Picture the Possibilities (PTP) films. PTP will roll out its World Premiere events March 1–4, 2012. Picture the Possibilities is a transformative leadership movement where empowered youth create films that express visions of a better tomorrow to engage and inspire leaders to ignite change, locally and globally. 
Throughout its two decades-long existence, Cinequest has tapped into its Silicon Valley roots and played a stand-out role in showcasing and promoting innovations that have revolutionized media [creation] and distribution, democratizing voice and connecting people and their visions to work toward a better tomorrow. With the contraction of our planet into the so-called Global Village, change can be startling [due to] the time and the scope in which it occurs. [But it can] lead to endless possibilities. Moreover, with mind-boggling advances in technology, these storytelling tools have been scaled down and simplified and are easily accessible to virtually anyone on the planet, regardless of geography, age or income level. Instantaneous, worldwide communication has further enhanced this capability, and at no time in our history has there been greater opportunity to improve the world through the transformative power of personal visions to connect not only audiences but also influential leaders who are capable and willing to make a difference. For over two decades, Cinequest has celebrated the convergence of artist and innovator to empower. Shared stories fuel the imagination and technologies enhance the power and reach of stories. This synergy promotes those endless possibilities. At Cinequest, seeing an even greater realm of potential for these combined forces—local and global—we created Picture the Possibilities.
Cinequest PTP is a worldwide transformative leadership movement. Through the magical art form of film, local youth express their visions of a better tomorrow that will engage and inspire global leaders to create change, at first within their immediate community, but then on a wider, grander scale. PTP began with the germ of an idea that has blossomed into a phenomenal worldwide venture. PTP empowers youth around the globe with innovative tools, mentors and training, connecting youth and leaders to share ideas, gain better understanding, build friendships and share hopes for the future. PTP affords youth a powerful voice for positive change. PTP educates, heals, transforms, enlightens, inspires and creates opportunities for an improved future, for the participants and for everyone who experiences and responds to their stories.
MM: Anything you’d like to add?

HH: Our festival theme is “never-ending passion.” Passion drives the artist and the innovator. As one of Cinequest’s founders, I can guarantee that we are more passionate than ever to serve the artists and innovators, both seasoned and the new and emerging, who will change our planet for the better.

The 22nd annual Cinequest Film Festival takes place from February 28th to March 11th in San Jose, California. For more information, click the banner below: