Johnathan McFarlane on wanna-be celebrity hype, Festivus Film Festival

Festivus Film Festival founders Tim DeMasters and Johnathan McFarlane want to offer films for the rest of us.
When Johnathan McFarlane and his partner Tim DeMasters created the Festivus Film Festival four years ago, they had trouble attracting audiences to all of the screenings at the Oriental and Bug theaters. Since then, the event has picked up buzz and grown its budget. The 2011 festival later this month will feature submissions from across the country, as well as submissions from local directors and producers. Westword caught up with McFarlane to talk about the history of the festival, its recent designation as a nonprofit and the selections on tap for this year's film fest for the rest of us.

Westword (A.H. Goldstein): Can you give me a basic background about the Festivus Film Festival?
Johnathan McFarlane: This is our fourth year. One of the other founders, Tim DeMasters, he and I had a film on the film festival circuit about five years ago. He and I realized that some of these festivals we were going to were really poorly planned and really poorly executed. As filmmakers, we were spending a lot of money to go out and present our films and travel to the festivals. I remember seeing one that we thought was one of the bigger ones that we got into in California. We went to our screen and we were the only people there in the entire theater [laughs].

There were some really good ones, but there were a lot of bad experiences. When we got back to Denver we realized that there's only one major film festival in Denver, and that one isn't really an indie film fest. It doesn't fit the kind of films that we're into. We thought we could take our experiences and all the things that we saw people doing wrong at festivals and create a new one.

We wanted to do all of those things right, with more of a focus on indie films rather than bigger budget Hollywood movies. For our brand and our festival, we wanted to go the indie route. That was four years ago. Fast forward to now; now we're a nonprofit and we're the biggest indie film fest in Denver.

WW: What has that development process been like?
JM: It was really difficult. We always knew what we wanted, and we thought that we had something really valuable to the community. Just because we thought that, it doesn't mean that other people did.

It takes awhile, first of all, to even get the word out. It takes years before your crowd starts to build up. We had some good screens the first year, but we also had a lot of empty ones. Each year, that's been able to grow a little bit as we continue to spread the word. We're always talking about it, we're always pushing it. We go to other film festivals and see what films they're playing.

It's an ongoing process, and it takes a really long time to develop relationships with filmmakers and distributors, which is one way we get some of our movies. It's getting your name out there so the filmmakers know about your festival and want to be a part of it. The majority of our films are submitted to us, so we're constantly trying to make the festival look as cool as we can.

We're advertising basically to two groups: we're advertising to filmmakers, because we want them to be a part of it, and we're advertising to just the Denver audience in general. The filmmaker part, that's something that goes on year round.

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