An all-encompassing media art showcase, New Media Film Festival (NMFF) continues to carve its own niche as it celebrates its ninth year June 16-17, 2018.
NMFF director and founder Susan Johnston has two primary goals in mind with the expansive nature of her ninth annual media fest: a mandate for storytelling, and good, old-fashioned face-to-face networking. It’s ironic in a way, that space so dedicated to media would prioritize networking via human interaction. The progressive and intuitive nature of the fest lends itself to the practical irony.
Johnston has gone out of her way to ensure that NMFF is both fun and valuable for filmmakers new and old. Included with 110 screenings, ten special events, and talent from the likes of Marvel, HBO and many more—as well as a focus on affordability and accessible meals and parking—all the grounds are covered for a worthwhile festival open to creatives and the general public galore.
Among several new additions to the festival, NMFF will the first festival to be an Emmys consultant, helping one or more submissions with the Emmy nomination process, and offer broadcasting opportunities. In the spirit of the fest, this yet-to-be announced addition is sure to open up opportunities for filmmakers for years to come.
Grant Vance, MovieMaker Magazine (MM): What are some of the highlights for the ninth annual New Media fest? Is there anything especially new you’re excited about?
Susan Johnston (SJ): There’s different stories, different countries every year. We have 40 countries this year with quite a few premieres. Content with amazing athletes including the world premiere of “Big Air” with five-time X Game medalist Elliot Sloan in Virtual Reality. Olympian Gabby Douglas is in a web series. Also we have philosopher Timothy Morton who just came on board. He’s going to speak on the collaboration with Jeff Bridges and Susan Kucera on the opening night documentary Living in Future’s Past. Opening night is a prestigious spot, so it’s cool that you have a female director, an Academy Award winner, and a legendary philosopher who has written a book with Björk, and Yoko Ono has lent her words to his book.
We still have our international art exhibit. We changed the name because of the venue, but we used to have a VIP soiree with wine and Nosh. This year it’s a creative mixer. The reason we call it a “creative mixer” is because you know filmmakers are there, celebrities are there, regular ticket-buying public people are there. Business happens there. We just started a success stories series that shows how people got hired there or were discovered talent or got funded.
We do the New Media marketing table. It’s really popular. Take a business card and leave one. People love that. Our opening singer this year is Olivia Olsen (Marceline the Vampire, Adventure Time). We hired a new host for each question and answer session. We have a tech CEO for the pretty techy panel with augmented reality, artificial intelligence, apps drones, etc. We’ve got an agent doing another one because people love to meet agents. We have a seven-time Emmy winner doing our Big Cats United Nations screening.
Our programming is chronological, so you can either search by title or by day, or by category. You can search by time and by screening session. Our most expensive New Media session, which is Session 2, is the producer’s panel and pitching, and I forgot to tell you that’s new this year. We’ve created something that I think is really fun. The panelists are killer, there’s Sneak Peak entertainment that did one of my favorite films, (500) Days of Summer, there’s OBB Entertainment that does really crazy storylines. There’s Backroads Entertainment with Jonathan Cane formerly from BBC. And who doesn’t love Warner Brothers Animation?
Sessions are free to $50, the ones in-between are 30, we average two-and-a-half to three hours, they all include a Q&A with filmmakers in attendance, so we really think we’ve made it affordable, and that’s before discount codes.
MM: What is New Media’s relationship with the independent moviemaker? What type of submissions specifically are you looking for?
SJ: Our mandate is honoring stories worth telling. My personal philosophy is that the stories—we read, we write, we share, we enjoy—whether they’re immersive (sitting in a movie theater, reading a book) or talking to a friend, they encode your future. That’s where I come from. Some of these filmmakers have never made anything before. Some of it is made on their mobile phone, or it’s a trailer. Generally no two stories are alike. Either thematically or in tone. They program almost like a song. Where it takes you on a journey. It’s not that you’re getting Metallica in one and then classical immediately after.
James Picard (a former Grand Prize winner) called me one day said, “I just want to thank you.” He said he was offered $1 million for a painting in his film The Dark and the Wounded, which is about his paintings, and he attributed it to our festival. That was very touching. We had a panelist get funded for his VR project because he met someone at the festival. I think being at the festival—we actually have a couple living together who met at the festival. I thought that was really cute. Being at the festival, you may be talking to someone from Marvel, or HBO, or the Emmys.
MM: So you’ve got a lot of up-and-coming moviemakers in a space where they can meet and get advice from experienced veterans in the industry?
JS: I think people need to network, to build relationships, to meet people, to learn. It’s good to meet people. Especially the producer’s panel and pitching session. Not only are they great producers, but they’re great people. It’s going to be a great question and answer session. If you use the code 15A you’ll save money off of your ticket. Q&As with the filmmaker of any film are wonderful; you can watch their story and here how they got it made. And young filmmakers should really be at this panel and the pitch meeting. Just for buying a ticket at the producer’s panel you get an opportunity to pitch if you want. For the cost of going to a regular producer panel you get the opportunity to pitch.
MM: What’s the ratio of features and shorts specifically to the wider scope of “new media”? How many are short films?
SJ: Out of 110 projects three are feature length. The rest are shorts… for instance, our augmented reality piece is a minute and seven seconds. Everything outside of our three features is short form content, because that would make more sense in my world. In our shorts category in [in context to a] general festival, I don’t know, maybe they say that has to be a minimum of five minutes? We don’t. There is no time limit. I think one year we had something that was ten seconds. It was called the ten second meal. We showed two of them together because you blink and it’s gone, so we showed two, which made 20 seconds. That’s the only reason I want to quantify; we are a bit different. Which I like. We’re known for making the cutting edge accessible.
MM: Curatorially speaking are you looking for projects that break the boundaries of what you can do with media?
SJ: We do look for stories in technology, and we do always look for stories worth telling. We accept content that’s already distributed, we accept content that’s already online—Hulu, Vimeo, YouTube, their own website. We are open to content. Period. What we say is that we reach all agents, all cultures, all media. We have one VR piece that is in three different languages all at the same time. One year we programmed 3D photographs that were put into a 3D film—3D on 3D. We’re the first festival to program content that was developed by artificial intelligence. It was called Years after Years. The filmmaker one million images and ingested them into the computer, and then created an algorithm that gave license for the AI to choose. The way the algorithm was created it gave the AI the power to make the decision to tell a story.
MM: I’m interested in your awards process. There’s the bigger schema awards like the Legend Award (being rewarded to Ray Bradbury this year). How are projects accepted into the festival evaluated? Is a feature film competing with a ten second short?
SJ: We offer $45,000 in awards. On our awards page it will break it down for you. Everything that is admitted and accepted is eligible for an audience award that is totally out of our hands. People vote, it’s tallied up, that’s who wins. Then there is a best of category award. So if you were accepted into Web Series, you absolutely could win best web series award. So audience, best in category, and then you have the grand prize award. But then there are two categories that have their own awards on top of being considered for these three are script and student. The top three in script get $1,000 in memberships spread over four script membership organizations. In student the top three students win $100 cash. MM
New Media Film Festival runs June 16-17, 2018. For tickets and more information visit newmediafilmfestival.com.