Salt Lake City Film Festival: No Off Season

The masterminds behind the Salt Lake City Film Festival: (Back Row L-R) Grant Esplin, Miah Mabe, Juan Santos, Josh Rathbun, Laura Chukanov, Trevor Hale. (Front Row L-R) Matt Whittaker, Scott Whittaker. (Not Pictured: Nick Whittaker, Chris Bradshaw, Brady Kimball.) Photo: Katie Panzer

While most people’s attention will be turned towards the stuffy old celebrities, pantiless pseudo-celebrities and the handful of serious independent filmmakers inhabiting the streets of Park City this January, the organizers of the Salt Lake City Film Festival will be hard at work putting together the third installment of their annual event. Taking place every August, the SLCFF has featured a wide variety of independent films, from critical favorites like Best Worst Movie to local documentaries like Cleanflix and a number of obscure features and shorts that live and die in the film festival circuit. Even though this year’s festival doesn’t take place until the end of August, the organizers have been busy expanding their brand and planning for the future. On December 16, the SLCFF celebrated the launch of their new website and the opening of submissions for the 2011 festival at their monthly HEFFE’FILM’IN film screening at Brewvies. SLUG spoke with the Salt Lake City Film Festival’s organizers about what happens behind the scenes during the film festival’s off season and how the festival has evolved over the past few years.

The second annual Salt Lake City Film Festival concluded on August 15, 2010. However, the event’s organizers kept working. “After the first year we ended the festival and we were stoked about it, so we decided to take three months off, and that was a mistake,” says Matt Whittaker, one of the festival’s co-directors. Now that the film festival is entering its third year, the organizers are applying the lessons they’ve learned from past years to make organizing and running the film festival easier and more efficient. “We try to figure out new ways to organize ourselves every year. The first year we didn’t have online ticket sales, which was pretty nuts. Then we got online ticket sales for the second year, and it was even crazier to deal with that monster,” Whittaker says. “We’re slowly becoming nerdier and nerdier when it comes to organizing this thing, which is good.”

This past September, the SLCFF began hosting their monthly film series HEFFE’FILM’IN at Brewvies on the third Thursday of every month. HEFFE’FILM’IN is a platform to showcase both under-appreciated indie films (like November’s Bronson) as well as beloved classics that many people may not have had the chance to see in theaters (December’s Planes, Trains & Automobiles). Ultimately, though, SLCFF wants HEFFE’FILM’IN to be a monthly event that brings people together to have a good time. “We want HEFFE’FILM’IN to be the kind of event that people want to go to every month. The film you’re going to see that night is the icing on the cake,” Whittaker says. “We also want to help people in Salt Lake City recognize what an amazing venue we have with [Brewvies]. This is an amazing place with great sound where you can eat nachos, drink beer and yell. This place should be the cultural epicenter for under-60s in Salt Lake City,” says Justin Allred, director of programming.

This year, filmmakers can submit their films to the Salt Lake Film Festival online using Withoutabox, an online community utilized by thousands of filmmakers and hundreds of film festivals. Submissions will be accepted until April 15 and filmmakers can submit feature narratives, feature documentaries (60 minutes or longer) and shorts (preferably under 20 minutes) that have been released in the past three years. SLCFF has seen submissions from all over the world, but since this is the Salt Lake City Film Festival, local submissions are encouraged. “We really want a lot of local submissions. We’ve had some great local shorts submitted for the past two festivals and we want more,” says Whittaker. However, don’t expect any special treatment just because you’re from Salt Lake. “We definitely look for local interests, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to sacrifice quality just to squeeze some local films in there,” Allred says.

Now that the people behind the Salt Lake City Film Festival have two years of experience, they have a lot of advice to offer filmmakers who hope to get their films accepted by the festival. Common problems include the use of copyrighted music and visible brand logos in films—most prospective filmmakers don’t realize that you have to pay to include such things in your movies. Allred says, “Don’t bite off more than you can chew. If you’re a senior in college with a budget of two grand, you might want to put that script about the post-apocalyptic robot war on the shelf for a while and write a nice character piece.” Even though the SLCFF accepts rough cuts, Whittaker says, “Submit your film when your film’s done. Rough cuts will be overlooked if there are better looking films being considered.”  If your film is accepted, it’s ultimately your responsibility to promote it. If your film has been rejected, don’t beg the programmers to reconsider. Most of the advice offered by the SLCFF seems like common sense, but common sense and passion projects typically don’t go hand in hand.

Though the film festival bylaws have a specific set of criteria that programmers use to ultimately select which films will be included in the festival, Allred has a more succinct approach: “I’ll tell you what we look for: We look for a good movie. If everything fits together and makes for a satisfactory viewing experience, that’s what we’re gonna program.” The 2011 Salt Lake Film Festival will take place from August 18-21 and will feature panels, workshops and 25-30 films. Visit to learn more about the festival, submit your film and find out the details on each month’s HEFFE’FILM’IN at Brewvies.

The masterminds behind the Salt Lake City Film Festival: (Back Row L-R) Grant Esplin, Miah Mabe, Juan Santos, Josh Rathbun, Laura Chukanov, Trevor Hale. (Front Row L-R) Matt Whittaker, Scott Whittaker. (Not Pictured: Nick Whittaker, Chris Bradshaw, Brady Kimball.) Photo: Katie Panzer