Seattle is home to the National Film Festival for Talented Youth (NFFTY), the largest youth film festival in the world. Created in 2007, NFFTY grows by leaps and bounds every year, screening hundreds of films from young filmmakers all over the planet. The 2014 festival kicks off Thursday and it’s guaranteed to be awesome.
This year NFFTY is under new leadership with the addition of Managing Director Stefanie Malone. Washington Filmworks recently caught up with Stefanie to learn more about her transition into the organization and what’s happening at NFFTY 2014.
Hi, Stefanie. This is your first NFFTY as Managing Director. Tell us a about your background and what motivated you to seek out the role?
Prior to coming to NFFTY, I was at KCTS Television as Director of Community Engagement & Education and had the opportunity to produce some incredible programs and support great partnerships there, like the one between KCTS and NFFTY. I led the engagement and education department; developed and produced national and local multiplatform station projects; executive produced television programs; designed web content for PBSKids.org; and regularly served on national advisory boards for PBS. I had the pleasure of working on regional projects with prominent filmmaker Ken Burns, someone who I greatly admire. I was fortunate enough to produce a program with Ken and Timothy Egan called On the Dust Bowl, which won a regional Emmy-Award last year.
When the position at NFFTY opened, I was intrigued. I’m passionate about film, both as a consumer and as a producer. And I continue to make documentaries today. This position at NFFTY brought together so many of the things that I love: film, community engagement, education, and youth media. And I knew that Jesse Harris (Founder and Artistic Director) and Lindsey Johnson LeDuc (Former Managing Director) were smart, talented, creative people and had built a strong arts organization.
What is it like being a part of the world’s largest youth film festival?
I really love everything! Putting together the festival and its many moving parts is like putting together a giant puzzle. It’s stressful at times, but when things start to come together, there is such a sense of satisfaction. And I honestly get to work with the best team: Todd Kaumans (Program Manager), Kaleigh Ward (Festival Manager), Kyle Seago (Lead Programmer), Cecilia Ang (Amazing Intern!) and of course, Jesse Harris!
Which parts are you looking forward to most?
During our selection process I watched all of the documentary submissions. Such creativity! It was fascinating to watch these young filmmakers tackle complicated subjects. There is a documentary called Paper State: Undocumented, Unafraid, Undeterred, which explores undocumented kids in the U.S., navigating high school under the threat of deportation. Or Once Upon a Childhood, which tells the stories of “bombies” in Laos, injuring and killing the citizens there. That one brought me to tears.
But, I think my favorite part is really going to be interacting with the filmmakers at the festival. That is what I’m most looking forward to. These filmmakers are such an inspiration, so creative. I count myself as very lucky to be able to meet and engage with them at the festival. These are the future Stephen Spielbergs, Kathryn Bigelows, and Martin Scorseses.
Congratulations on NFFTY’s National Endowment for the Arts Challenge America Fast-Track grant. How will this help new audiences connect with the festival?
The NEA grant supports our efforts to serve low-income and ethnically diverse communities throughout Puget Sound. Each year we strive to increase the number of low income schools we contact to organize field trips to NFFTY; provide free tickets to homeless youth; work with local ethnic communities to increase attendance to films from their countries of cultural origin; and increase the number of films and Q&A sessions accessible to deaf individuals.
Additionally, NFFTY films provide insight into the aspirations and concerns of contemporary youth. Through our submission outreach, NFFTY seeks films that reflect a diverse range of cultures and artistic styles. NFFTY gives a voice to young filmmakers dealing with issues such as poverty, immigration, and bullying, and topics such as these help emotionally engage communities in the film festival as an art event.
What new things should we watch for?
- Film of the Week – our regular dive into the best of NFFTY films, packaged and presented with current interviews with filmmakers, sponsored by Volvo. NFFTY and Volvo want to extend the annual festival beyond the spring, and recognize these amazing filmmakers every week of the year.
- Best of NFFTY – our offering to film festivals, to help them connect and feature the best new emerging filmmakers. The NFFTY staff works to create selections that serve specific film festivals and expand the reach of these storytellers. Launched last year, we have forged partnerships with Seattle International Film Festival, Gig Harbor Film Festival, Rainier Film Festival, and the Ethiopia International Film Festival. We continue to look for other opportunities to introduce people to NFFTY films and increase exposure for our filmmakers.
- NFFTY Creative – our in-house production arm, working with NFFTY alumni filmmakers to create original content for companies and organizations. In my short time with NFFTY, I’ve had the pleasure of working with three filmmakers who created a documentary on Vitamin Angels, an organization that provides vitamins to malnourished children around the globe. This work was funded by vitaminwater®, and the final outcome is incredible. Vitamin Angels will launch a 12-minute version of this film at www.asupportingrole.com on March 24. NFFTY screens the complete 40-minute version on Closing Night, April 27 at 6:30 PM at SIFF.
- Animation as King – Animated films are not just a genre, but an art form. What is the process of creating an animated film? How do you break into this field? Join talented industry professionals: Dan Lund (Frozen, Princess and the Frog), Wilbert Plijnaar (Despicable Me 2, The Lorax, Ice Age), Connie Nartonis Thompson (Frankenweenie, Beauty and the Beast) and NFFTY alumnus Amos Sussigan (Swan Cake) to talk about this and more.
- Masterclass by Danish short film director Kræsten Kusk – Danish director Kræsten Kusk has always used his own personal stories as a creative motor in his filmmaking, and since 1998 he has directed 15 short films. His newest collaborative film Sundays will be screening at the Cannes Film Festival in May. The workshop will focus on Kræsten’s very personal take on filmmaking combined with the collaborative approach. Kræsten will show clips from his latest film Where the Light Gets In and from the unfinished Sundays.
- The Hustle – We were thrilled to have vitaminwater® join NFFTY to sponsor a new category called “Hustle” for 2014. We are showcasing a series of short films that explore the individual’s everyday hustle in the pursuit of a passion or dream. The winner of this category will receive a $5,000 cash award at NFFTY 2014.
- Best Emerging Female Director – This year NFFTY is launching efforts to address gender inequality in film. In an industry where only 9% of directors and 25% of producers are women, NFFTY wants to provide opportunities where emerging female filmmakers can feel supported to pursue their passions. We kick off the launch of the award at the 2014 festival, following with the development of partnerships and programs that will support this initiative.
- A Supporting Role – Additionally, this year’s festival will premiere the first originally produced documentary by NFFTY, A Supporting Role, which will screen at the Closing Night Event. This documentary features the work of three NFFTY alumni – Alex Bohs, Joel McCarthy and Caleb Slain – who traveled around the world to tell the story of Vitamin Angels, a nonprofit seeking to combat the issue of malnutrition. The Closing Night film will screen at the SIFF Uptown Theatre on Sunday, April 27.
NFFTY 2014 starts this week in Seattle, April 24-27. Can’t wait till Thursday? Get a peek of what’s in store through the festival trailer.