The battle for independent domination

By John Collins, Red Pulse Writer

Local film festivals are no longer relegated to the cold months of January, because this summer will see the birth of the Salt Lake City Film Festival, held exclusively in town. Chris Bradshaw and Matt Whittaker said the concept had been brewing for a few years but making the event a 2009 summer reality is a new development8212;however, it’s still a work in progress. The deadline for film submissions is tentatively slated for June 30, and the two-day festival will take place August 14 and 15.

Although the reflex to make comparisons with “other” Utah film festivals is natural, it is important to understand this project’s separateness. An entirely different vision is at play for the Salt Lake City community, one that takes the emphasis off of Hollywood elitism and places it solely on the joy of making and watching independently made movies, and doing so as a community.

“My friend and I have talked about doing this, off and on, for a while,” Whittaker said.

“Finally, we realized that we had to get on it8212;not let it pass us by. We aren’t getting younger and film festivals aren’t getting any easier to organize. But we were shocked when we went to incorporate the idea with the city and realized that no one had thought about making the Salt Lake City Film Festival before. We bought the dot-com and URL, and started there.”

This lucky break on the marketing front helped set the plan further into motion. One of the many challenges remaining is the securing of venue locations and getting local businesses to participate by offering support and affordable rates when necessary. The response has been tremendously positive.

“So far it looks like we have three “for sure’ venues,” Whittaker said. “The City Library, the Tower Theatre and the U’s Post Theater, and we are working on getting more. The whole thing is banking on community participation. We couldn’t do it on our own, but the good news is that we don’t have to. Salt Lake City is filled with people who support the arts. This festival is an opportunity to combine independent film with the efforts of local businesses and community-minded people, to create something that’s worth looking forward to.”

The SLCFF is looking for submissions of all kinds, and as technology makes filmmaking more accessible, more people are making movies than ever before. This festival’s goal is to spotlight the best and most interesting films, pulling from a broad spectrum of independent artists’ perspectives. Budgets, executive connections and star power don’t pull the strings8212;they simply don’t matter. It’s about the people and their movies.

“It’s really important that filmmakers don’t get discouraged about submitting a film, including those who have entered films at other festivals and were not accepted,”

Whittaker said. “This is different. It’s a grassroots operation. We are keeping it open to every up-and-coming filmmaker out there.”

Accessibility is a vital part of the festival’s strategy. The SLCFF team (consisting of about 5 integral members) has sent word about the festival to most Utah high schools in the surrounding valleys. Participation on every level is what Bradshaw and Whittaker are trying to accomplish. In fact, a specific portion of the festival will spotlight local high school short films.

“There are kids out there who understand the technology that are just prodigies, making really amazing films, shot from their own perspectives,” Whittaker said. “This festival wants to spotlight that talent, and we are waiving the submission fee for students.”

The festival’s creators believe that there are equally talented filmmakers in communities all over the world, producing independent works that probably deserve a wider audience. The SLCFF is hoping to receive at least one or two international entries in this first year, and more in the future.

“Filmmaking can be a universal language,” Whittaker said. “And there are stories that transcend cultural differences. In general, films can be like a glue that connects us to the rest of humanity, and them to us.”

A growing consensus suggests that many film festivals aren’t what they used to be8212;or at least that a shift away from their original commitment to truly independent films has taken place. As a reminder of what not to do, the SLCFF is clearly keeping this in mind. But as with any outside-of-the-box venture, success is not guaranteed.

Bradshaw and Whittaker both looked at each other after deciding to proceed with their plans, and agreed on three things. The first was accepting that organizing a film festival wouldn’t be easy. The second was an understanding that failure was a total possibility. But the third agreement rests in a belief that, if the festival works, it could be a positive force in Salt Lake City on a few different levels. Local businesses and sponsors are a crucial part of the festival’s shot at success, and a partnership between the artistic community and these businesses could be exactly what the local economy needs.

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