It's not easy kicking a new film festival into public awareness. It's more difficult when even the people who know it exists are not entirely clear that it is, on its own merits, actually a film festival.
The FilmQuest Film Festival—a showcase primarily dedicated to genre films—launched in July 2014 at the Gateway Megaplex Theatres while the first annual FantasyCon was taking place at the Salt Palace. That certainly brought attendees to FilmQuest, but it may have also brought a misunderstanding regarding the relationship between FilmQuest and FantasyCon.
"FilmQuest definitely was working alongside FantasyCon and coincided with it," says FilmQuest coordinator Jonathan Martin. "People just assumed, kind of like how Salt Lake Comic Con had a film festival, it was something like that. But we're separate entities. It overshadowed what we were doing. Now being out on our own, it allows the spotlight to be a lot more on us and what we're doing."
That spotlight will be decidedly individual this year, since FantasyCon opted to take a break for 2015 and organize for a bigger and better 2016 event in its new location, the Sandy Expo Center. That change comes with new opportunities and challenges for the film festival, which is also moving to Sandy.
Among the challenges is providing a clear sense that while many of the films are focused around fantasy, horror and science-fiction concepts, FilmQuest isn't exclusively about those kinds of films. That's an identity that, as a result of the affiliation with FantasyCon, Martin realizes he has to sell to both potential guests and filmmakers who might consider submitting films (and who might have spotted an article in Moviemaker Magazine identifying FilmQuest a go-to festival ["50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee," April 8, 2015, Moviemaker Magazine]).
"I get a lot of emails from filmmakers," says Martin, "and they'll describe to me their film. Not everything is particularly sci-fi/fantasy/horror if it fits the spirit of what we're doing. I tell them when they're inquiring, 'Look, this is what we are, we'll make a few exceptions.' And some of them don't submit, and that's fine. When push comes to shove, and two films are equal and one fills my theme, I'm going to take the one that fills my theme."
There's also the challenge of moving from downtown Salt Lake City to Sandy, part of the larger plan including FantasyCon's relocation. Yet Martin sees opportunities there as well, both in the physical facilities that the Jordan Commons Megaplex provides—with conference rooms and other places to hold the panels and filmmaker workshops that will also be part of the festival—and the kind of venue that can remind average moviegoers of the kind of movies they love to see on any given weekend.
"What's most popular at the box office right now? Sci-fi, fantasy and horror," Martin says. "What I've emphasized with this [festival] is, 'This is fun stuff.' These [movies] are energetic, these are fun, these are different."
So Martin is moving forward with carving out a distinct space for FilmQuest, with submissions from more than 70 countries (see sidebar for some program highlights), guest judges like actor Doug Jones (Hellboy, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer) and programming that's intended to help local filmmakers with their own work. When FantasyCon returns in 2016, the vibe might be different. But for now, Martin has one message that he needs to get out to those who might have visited last year and to those who might never go to a festival associated with a fan event: "One of the things I have to train people is, 'This isn't a convention, guys; this is a film festival.'"
More than 250 shorts, feature films and documentaries will be on the nine-day FilmQuest program. Here are a few that were available for advance screening:
20 Years of Madness: Jeremy Royce's hilariously uncomfortable documentary follows high school friends who once collaborated on an oddball cable-access show in Michigan and have decided, 20 years later, to make one more episode. The characters—most of them struggling with disappointing lives as they approach 40—are beautifully drawn in their longing to recapture a moment from their youth, while showing both how much—and how little—people can change over time. (June 26, 7 p.m.)
SuperBob: There's funny, charming material in this story of a simple British postman named Bob Kenner (Brett Goldstein) who's transformed into an invulnerable flying superhero after being struck by a meteorite, while remaining hopeless in his personal life. It's a bit too densely plotted for a mere 81 minutes, but Goldstein's winning performance finds great punch lines in the story of an ordinary guy dealing with an extraordinary fate. (June 27, 7 p.m.)
The Looking Planet: Eric Law Anderson's fanciful animated story explores the wonder of an alien race "building" the universe, with an eye towards helping humanity find a grand destiny (Animation Block 2, June 27, 11:30 a.m.)