Reporting from Cinequest Film Festival 22
Article by Justin T. Bowler
The Cinequest Film Festival was founded in 1990 by Halfdan Hussey and Kathleen Powell. Though I wasn’t there with them, I imagine their conversation went something like this…
“Let’s create a film festival where we not only celebrate film, but also the people with the imagination behind it.”
Then, the other responded with something like…
“Yeah, but, let’s raise the bar to the highest caliber across all aspects of the festival.”
“Good idea. Every team leader will be motivated, intelligent, and given a group of outstanding individuals who can carry out any task.”
“I love it. We can make Cinequest one of the greatest film festivals in the world.”
“Sounds good. There’s just one thing.”
“What we want is nearly impossible.”
You know what happened next? They did it (Now, their conversation was probably a little more in depth and with a higher level of diction than I portrayed, but the end result was exactly what I wrote. Cinequest is an impossibly good film festival). Twenty-two years later, they are one of 68 Academy Award Feeder Festivals in the world, achieving over 80,000 attendees, and without a doubt, the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen.
Every aspect of my interactions with them has been exceptional, from my original submission to my current screenings here.
My first interaction was with Brittany Welby, the Festival Publicist. With the acceptance letter to the festival, she sent out a publicity and marketing guide to all of the filmmakers. It wasn’t just your standard guide. It was a step by step instructional booklet for both smart filmmakers and lesser business-minded fellows like me. This included instructions for press materials and checklists of items necessary for the festival to promote my film. (That’s right, I said it, THEY are promoting MY film!) It also had tips, tricks, and guidelines on how to make my electronic press kit as dynamic as possible for media outlets and attendees. Plus, it had suggestions on how filmmakers can use their social media outlets in new ways to enhance coverage of their film. Obviously, I was impressed with them at this point, but it got better. As my interaction with the festival grew, every question I asked, every e-mail I sent, was answered with the expediency of The Flash (if The Flash were to answer emails) (In actuality, I assume he doesn’t have time, since fighting crime takes a pretty large token of your time) (But, back to the festival…).
Prior to attending, Amber Hedges, Head of Print Traffic, was also Johnny-on-the-spot with email replies regarding technical questions I had for screenings and such. In fact, Amber’s team even called ME, when they needed clarification to answer my question. This truly epitomized the festival’s attitude and what impresses me so much about them. Every branch of the Cinequest team takes great care to treat me like I am REALLY important. With large festivals, it’s easy to get lost in the mix. With large festivals, quite frequently you aren’t called back. This is not the case at Cinequest. I have always been contacted immediately by someone after every message I have left and every e-mail I have sent. They are impressive in every aspect, especially programming.
The Programming Director is Michael Rabehl. He and his team have the daunting task of programming approximately 160 films (docs, shorts, and features) over the 13-day fest, screening nearly every film four times in different time slots, while spreading the key prime hours of attendance around evenly to all competing films. This programming puzzle (which must be akin to a math problem devised by Stephen Hawking) is a task not easily undertaken, but flawlessly executed by Rabehl and his team (I don’t know if you can get a degree in “Time Organization”, but they all seem to have doctorates). Also, know that Cinequest accepts so many shorts that they break free from the typical block after block of short film compilations. Instead, they pair up a number of them with features. This allows for pairing of similar themes (by coincidence or intentional, I don’t know); however, in every pairing I saw, it enhanced the moviegoing experience for the audience members. I am exceptionally happy that my short film, “Touch”, is paired with the film “Shuffle” by Kurt Kuenne. Both deal with similar themes from dramatically different approaches, and compliment each other’s style of storytelling, and cinematic technique.
Furthermore, I’ve been to festivals that didn’t even have suggestions on where to put postcards, or posters for your film at the festival. Brittany, working with Dustin Coleman, Marketing Coordinator, and their teams, furnished specific locations, put them up for me and when I had more to put up in the middle of the festival, they were ready and willing to take on the task for me so I could “go enjoy the festival”. At every turn, the staff was going out of their way to make my attendance there as pleasant as possible. I was even offered an envoy for one of the ceremonies (Truth be told, I didn’t know what an envoy was, so I pretended I received an urgent e-mail on my phone and looked it up, before I answered) (In reality, I wasn’t fooling anyone and I’m sure Julie, from Hospitality, knew exactly what I was doing. She was gracious enough to pretend she didn’t) (Thank you Julie). This brings me to the cherry on top of my Cinequest sundae (thus far): The Hospitality Team, headed by Marcela Villegas Castanon.
As I stepped thru the doors of the Welcome Center, I was greeted by… not 1, not 2, BUT 3 people: Hillary, Julie, and “Art” (I don’t remember his real name, but his “Never Ending Passion” badge, that resembled a name tag, had Art Cinema on it. So, I called him Art). They checked me in, gave me my Artist Festival Swag Bag, and asked me if I had questions. I did, so they called Dustin. He wasn’t available, so they found someone who was and got Brittany on the phone pronto, in true Cinequest fashion. Could they have been more professional? No. They were pitch perfect!
With my questions answered, they invited me to the VIP Lounge. Open 10-6pm every day, the INTEL VIP Lounge has couches, arm chairs, bean bags, tables, and complimentary drinks and food: not just snacks, but sandwiches, desserts and such. Coffee stations, bottled juice drinks, and beer/wine are complimentary all day long. In addition, there are private VIP Soirees every night between 5-7pm and late night Meetups from 9:30-… at many of the different establishments throughout downtown San Jose. All of these are advertised to filmmakers as a mix of artists, innovators, executives and film lovers. They come with cocktails, hors d’oeveres, and great conversation (They even guarantee the conversation! “How?” you ask? Good question. Here is the answer). Well, you may be a great filmmaker, but not a great conversationalist. So, members of Marcela’s Hospitality team, like Kat (Sunday night at Loft Bar and Bistro) are on hand. I watched her grab any solo filmmaker sitting in a corner and introduce them to other filmmakers, so as to join the conversation. Incredible. Too good to be true? This festival is impossibly good.
To all filmmakers, I say, submit to this festival. Submit, submit, SUBMIT! Cinequest prides itself on finding new filmmakers and promoting artists who are stepping into new genres. In addition, story here, is king. From the films I’ve seen so far, the production values range from good to exceptional. The sound quality ranges from good to exceptional. But, the storytelling is solely exceptional. Filmmakers of shorts, docs, and features at this festival know their stuff.
From publicity, to film traffic, to programming to hospitality, to the art on the screen, this festival is the bar by which other festivals must try to live up to. I look forward to the rest of the festival. I don’t know how it could possibly get any better, but I’m excited to see how it will. And after meeting the heads of the departments, and the two co-founders of the festival, I have no doubt that they have something planned and it will be amazing.