Here’s why NFFTY is an amazing film festival for new talent
According to the National Film Festival for Talented Youth Managing Director Dan Hudson, “NFFTY is the Coachella of film festivals. For true cinephiles, the excitement of discovering your new favorite filmmaker is like being able to say you saw next year’s headlining act on a small side stage. Audiences could walk into any random screening at NFFTY and see some of the best shorts in the world!” We agree.
Now in its 13th year, Seattle-based NFFTY has become one of the world’s largest and most influential film festivals for emerging directors, showcasing young talent from all over the globe.
The 2019 installment of NFFTY will screen a diverse lineup of 261 shorts and 1 feature-length film in the 31 screening events over the festival’s weekend. Dedicated to diversity, over 50% of its official selections are directed by female and non-binary identifying filmmakers, with 40% of the films helmed by people of color.
The 2019 festival also features a great lineup of 32 jurors across 8 competitions, with dozens of Emmys, Oscars, and other top industry awards between them. They include buyers and developers at large distributors and studios, programmers at major film festivals, and previous NFFTY participants. Dustin Lance Black, screenwriter of MILK, is just one of the many standout jurors this year.
This year’s NFFTY also features new partnerships with brands and outlets looking to acquire short films to distribute on their platforms, including NowThis, Here TV, Film Movement, DUST, Alter, and Vimeo. This is an exciting expansion of the festival’s mission to bring the work of the best emerging filmmakers to professionals who can help advance their creative careers.
NFFTY is also increasing the scale of professional development events, including a keynote from Matty Brown, a workshop on “How to Get a Vimeo Staff Pick” presented by Meghan Oretsky, and a funding workshop from Seed&Spark.
Managing Director Dan Hudson first started with NFFTY in 2015, working as a venue manager and outreach coordinator. He was a venue manager again for NFFTY 2016 and NFFTY 2017, and has programmed the animation and music video categories since NFFTY 2017. Hudson was the festival manager for NFFTY 2018, working alongside festival co-founder Kyle Seago while he was interim managing director.
A graduate of Seattle University’s MFA in Arts Leadership program, Hudson has over eight years of professional experience working with arts nonprofits in Seattle. He primarily has worked with theatre and film organizations – including Intiman, ArtsWest, SIFF, Northwest Film Forum, NFFTY, and Scarecrow Video – in a variety of marketing, development, and operations roles.
In his spare time, Hudson programs the Grand Illusion Cinema in Seattle’s University District, where his programming was profiled in March 2018 by The Stranger. He was also co-programmer for Art House Theater Day 2019, a national event celebrating art house theaters with exclusive programming.
Hudson’s passion for youth involvement in the arts extends to his role at TeenTix, where he is entering his second year as president of the advisory council. His uniting passion is the arts’ transformative ability to build empathy and using the arts to build a more equitable and just society.
We were delighted to sit down with NFFTY Managing Director Dan Hudson to chat creativity, film festivals, filmmaking, and more.
Tell us about your career in film.
I was a communications major at a small liberal arts college in Walla Walla, WA, where friends and I would check out cameras and make short films. I also took film studies classes, marketing/design, theater . . . it all kind of added up to a career perfect for art house theaters and film festivals, which is where I’ve ended up!
Since landing in Seattle in 2009, I’ve worked at every major film organization in town (Seattle International Film Festival, Northwest Film Forum, Grand Illusion Cinema) in all types of roles (fundraising, marketing, operations, programming), which has led me to running NFFTY (National Film Festival for Talented Youth), a small shop producing a festival with an international rep.
I thought I was going to be a writer/director auteur like many an undergrad. Keep your heart and your options open, as there are so many rewarding paths in this field!
When was the National Film Festival for Talented Youth founded, and by whom?
NFFTY was founded in 2007 in Seattle by three then-teenagers – Jesse Harris, Kyle Seago, and Jocelyn R.C. – to build a space for young filmmakers creating professional-level work. Jesse Harris went on to become the first executive director for NFFTY and built it to a four-day weekend festival, screening over 200 films (the largest of its kind).
At the time NFFTY was founded, YouTube was barely a thing and no major festivals had much, if any, youth-focused programming tracks or educational offerings. A space for young filmmakers to share their work and receive professional recognition was pretty much unheard-of. NFFTY was a total pioneer in this space, and has been an exemplary model that has been imitated and replicated all around the world.
What films are you proudest of screening?
We love all the films at NFFTY! We carefully curate the festival each year, looking for strong authorial voices that will add to the culture of cinema. Our filmmakers screen their work at Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, TIFF, and many other top festivals, and are often the youngest filmmakers in their categories at these fests.
As far as individual standout films, our opening night film in 2018, Period. End of Sentence., went on to win the 2019 Oscar for Best Documentary Short. Rayka Zehtabchi, being only 23 years old when she shot the film, was the first Iranian-American woman to win an Academy Award! We are most proud when we can provide a platform and support to voices that have been traditionally marginalized by the greater film industry.
In a world of film festivals, what makes NFFTY stand out?
As a diehard cinephile myself, I liken NFFTY to more of a music festival experience. If you come to NFFTY, you are literally seeing filmmakers right before they blow up big. To extend the metaphor: you’re seeing next year’s headlining act on a small side stage at 2 am.
I personally believe wholeheartedly in the short film. I believe with the rise of streaming platforms and VOD, coupled with shorter attention spans and the rise of anthology episodic series, short films are about to have commercial and artistic viability like no other time in history since the silent era of 1- and 2-reelers.
That being said, NFFTY is the best short film programming I have ever seen, year after year, and anyone who wants to see innovative and cutting-edge cinema owes it to themselves to check it out!
Tell us about the mission of NFFTY.
The mission of NFFTY is to enable, nurture, promote and encourage the next generation of filmmakers to inspire, lead, and entertain the world with their stories. We specifically feature films by filmmakers who were 24 and under at the time of production, which skews slightly older than many other “youth” or “student” festivals.
We have no academic enrollment requirements, only an age registration, so while we show student work it is not an expectation. We have separate jury categories for student vs. non-student work.
How many movies will you be screening at NFFTY 2019?
260 shorts and 1 feature film!
How can people submit to the next year’s competition?
Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to keep up with the latest announcements. We exclusively accept submissions via FilmFreeway, where we have been honored four years running as a Top 100 Best Rated festival.
How is NFFTY funded? How can people support your mission?
Like most film festivals, we are supported as a 501c3 nonprofit. NFFTY is a program of The Talented Youth. We always accept tax-deductible donations year-round.
Can we expect any online functions of NFFTY, so remote people can enjoy the festival?
We are proud to continue our popular “Film of the Week” program spinning out of our 2019 edition. For the second year we are continuing to pair it with in-depth interviews with the filmmakers behind the films through The NFFTY Podcast.
These both drop weekly on our social media platforms, website, email newsletter, and all major podcast platforms. There is a huge archive available from our 2018 and previous editions you can check out on the podcast here.
Tell us about your internship program. How can this help young filmmakers?
As a festival created by young people for young people, we are happy to report that we have a strong internship program for those interested in film festivals and learning more about this facet of the industry. High school and college students are given full involvement and ownership of multiple areas of production, being able to bring their full selves to the festival for the enrichment of their peers.
We are also proud to offer stipends to festival interns, a rarity in the film festival world where so much key necessary work is done unpaid by volunteers.
What’s your advice for first-time filmmakers?
Don’t make the films you think other people want to see or that you think are commercial. You will be disappointed by the resulting product, and distributors/festival programmers won’t be interested. What are the stories only you can tell, and why are you the one to tell it?
None of your favorite directors making blockbuster films started out making big films appealing to a wide audience. They made personal work that showed mastery of their craft and persistence of vision. Yes, there are a million ways to get your work out there, but it’s still a people business.
The industry is always looking for talent. Believe firmly in your work, and if you’ve got the X-factor, people will line up to shout from the mountaintop about it! Most people in this business are here because they love films, so give them a great one and doors will open.
What’s the best movie you’ve seen made on the tiniest budget?
Most student films are made on no budget, so this is really hard to answer! I think the most successful no-budget films are the ones that focus on limited characters and locations, with little-to-no-VFX and no licensed songs.
There are a lot of independent filmmakers who have really perfected the art of making highly entertaining and watchable films in this vein, including the Duplass Brothers, Joe Swanson, Lynn Shelton, Shane Carruth, Josephine Decker, etc. You don’t need stars if you don’t care about a theatrical run or a great chance at premiering at Sundance/SXSW, etc.!
I think it’s challenging because the accessibility of cameras like the Alexa and RED mean that audiences expect production value out of anything they watch, especially given what they receive for “cheap/free” on Hulu/Netflix/etc. The age of the true “no-budget” down-and-dirty feature breaking through like a Slacker or a Clerks is a bygone era.
If our readers can only see one movie at NFFTY this year, what film do you suggest?
Hoo boy, don’t know if I can even answer this one. I tend to be a bit of a sap sometimes, going for the feel-good standbys. Tree #3 by Omer-Ben Shachar is in our opening night showcase, and is one of the films that makes me believe in both cinema as an art and cultural balm.
As cynical as we can all feel about the state of the world in 2019, Tree #3 puts a genuine smile on my face. I think this film will continue to be received warmly by audiences as it continues its festival run. It won Best Student film at the prestigious Palm Springs Shorts Fest earlier this year.
What do you think is the best way for people to experience NFFTY?
Go full force and do the whole thing! It’s four days (well, three days and an opening night), and we have roughly 12-hour days of solid programming across three screens Friday to Sunday.
You get a little loopy by the end, but it’s a cinematic hangover well worth having. Most of the filmmakers from the 260+ films attend the festival and stay the whole weekend, so you’re rubbing shoulders with the next Jenkins (Barry or Patty, take your pick) while you’re at it.
If all that has whet your appetite, make sure you check out the full lineup.
OPENING NIGHT | Thursday, October 24, 2019
Pre-Reception, 4pm; Screening Starts 6:30pm | SIFF Cinema Egyptian
Enjoy an outstanding lineup of short films made by some of the best young directors from around the world. After the screening, make your way to Chop Suey for an all-ages, unforgettable after-party!
MY TIME | Directed by Giulia Gandini, Age 24 | UK
A 12-year-old girl has her first period in class. Her skirt is stained red. She is up next to present her final paper in front of all her peers. Will she find a way out of the ’uncomfortable’ situation?
YOU’RE GONNA BE OKAY | Directed by Catherine McCord, Age 19 | Virginia
After undergoing open-heart surgery, eighteen-year-old filmmaker Catherine McCord recalls intimate moments in her life, blending vintage home movies and voicemails with the present, recounting her recovery.
TREE #3 | Directed by Omer Ben-Shachar, Age 22 | California/Israel
After he’s been cast (again!) as a background tree in his annual middle school play, an ambitious and imaginative Israeli immigrant boy leads a revolution on stage that his intolerant drama teacher will never forget.
SODOM & GOMORRAH | Directed by Curtis Essel, Age 24 | Ghana
A compelling documentary that showcases stories of people on Jamestown Beach, Ghana.
GRAB MY HAND: A LETTER TO MY DAD | Directed by Camrus Johnson & Frazier Smith, both Age 24 | New York
In this retelling of his dad’s relationship with his best friend, GRAB MY HAND is Camrus Johnson’s gift to his grieving father and a message to all to cherish every second you have with the ones you love while you still can.
FEATURE PRESENTATION: CALL ME INTERN | Directed by Leo David Hyde, Age 22, and Nathalie Berger, Age 22 | Switzerland
Saturday, October 26, 2019 | 2:30 PM | SIFF Film Center
Meet the millennials fighting back against unpaid work. Call Me Intern follows three interns-turned-activists who refuse to accept that young people should have to work for free to kickstart their careers. Their stories challenge youth stereotypes and help give a voice to the growing movement for intern rights across the world.
CLOSING NIGHT: GENERATION NOW
Sunday, October 27, 2019 | 6:30 PM | SIFF Cinema Uptown
Generation NOW takes center stage with intimate tales of contemporary adolescent life, the struggles and triumphs of life on earth, and the nooks and crannies of emotional evolution that define our existence.
VIRGENCITA | Directed by Giselle Bonilla, Age 23, Alex Hass, Age 22, Aqsa Altaf, Age 24, and Jean Ng, Age 22 | California
Josefina’s failed attempt at masturbating charges her with attempted suicide.
GREEN | Directed by Kylie Murphy, Age 23 | New York
A female standup gets bumped when a famous comic returns after sexual misconduct allegations.
MEN HELPING WOMEN | Directed by Isue Shin, Age 23, Derek Miranda, Age 24, and Nate Burke, Age 24 | California
Men Helping Women explores the way male artists abuse their positions of power in lieu of mentorship. Maybe they don’t know what they’re doing? But maybe they do.
WINNER OF PEACE | Directed by Marisa Kelly, Age 19, Taylor Killefer, Age 21, and Claire Imler, Age 19 | California
A young Sikh poet toes the line between her community and personal beliefs, but finds solace in spoken word.
CHARLEY HORSE | Directed by Luna Garcia, Age 17 | California/Israel
Charley Horse tells the story of Hila, an eighteen-year-old punk in modern-day Tel Aviv, who is forced to reconcile her identity and values on the eve of her military conscription.
THE BEST IS YET TO COME | Directed by Abena Taylor-Smith, Age 24 | UK
A bittersweet love letter to adolescence in small town England.
LAVENDER | Directed by Matthew Puccini, Age 24 | New York
A young gay man grows increasingly entangled in the marriage of an older couple.