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Behind the Scenes

Mass media department’s debut film festival considered a huge hit

People watching a film at WIFI Film Festival

Photo by Annalee Lubeski

From The Ichabod - Fall 2019

When Washburn University’s mass media department decided to launch its first film festival, Matthew Nyquist worried they wouldn’t get enough entries for a successful festival. After all, there were less than six months between its inception and the actual event.

Leave it to the filmmakers to provide a happy ending.

Almost 2,000 films from nearly 90 countries were submitted for the first Washburn International Film Institute Film Festival held April 11-13, 2019 – coinciding with the department’s 25th anniversary celebrations. Of the 2,000 submissions, organizers selected and screened 72 films at White Concert Hall and the Rita Blitt Gallery and Sculpture Garden.

“We ended up with about 670 hours’ worth of film,” said Nyquist, assistant professor, mass media. “Some of the content we got was so good. We even had the Academy Award-winning short film “Skin” submitted.”

The Making of WIFI

WIFI was founded on the belief that cinema is one of the most democratic arts with its ability to reach large audiences on an accessible and inclusive level. So, one of the main priorities of the festival is to give Washburn students and the region a place to showcase and promote their work.

As the festival’s founder, Nyquist worked closely with Maria Stover, chair and professor, mass media, to get things up and running. As managing director of the event, Stover said the funding from donors and the volunteers on campus made this event successful.

“We had 67 volunteers over the three-day festival, including teachers and students from across the mass media department and other majors,” Stover said. “It really took a village and an entire community to make this happen, which is also what made this so exciting.”

Nyquist brought in his friend and former film professor, Allan Holzman, from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, as a founding trustee of the event. As a Peabody and two-time Emmy-winning filmmaker, with such credits to his name as director-editor of Steven Spielberg’s "Survivors of the Holocaust," Holzman brought an air of distinction and loads of experience to the festival.

The festival featured Holzman's "The Art of Directing," series about Hollywood directors, a documentary entitled, "#TAKEMEANYWHERE," by actor and filmmaker Shia LaBeouf, and many other films including those submitted by Washburn students and alumni.

“One of the things I’ve focused on in my time so far at Washburn is to get students as much professional exposure as possible,” Nyquist said. “When we showed the Academy Award-winning movie at the festival, we showed all the Washburn films right before to give the most visibility to Washburn student films. People came away really impressed.”

In addition to professional exposure, the film festival is also giving future students – as well as others around the world – a glimpse of what is possible at Washburn.

“Two-thousand more people from across the world now know about Washburn. That alone is a tremendous impact,” Washburn President Jerry Farley said during the festival.

Forty-two faculty, community and staff judges helped evaluate the film submissions in eight categories including full-length features, short films, documentaries, Washburn student and alumni films and Kansas student films. Farley even judged a category and was present to bestow the first WIFI Film Festival President’s Award. The award was presented live via Skype to Yasmin Mistry for her film "For a Better Life."

A Sequel in 2020

With a successful first WIFI Film Festival behind them, the department is already working on next year’s festival with plans to get even more of the community, students and alumni involved.

“We’re already accepting submissions for 2020,” Nyquist said. “We’ll also be doing some of the screenings at the Jayhawk Theatre in downtown Topeka in addition to the screenings on Washburn’s campus.”

The second annual WIFI Film Festival is set for April 2-4, 2020, during a First Friday Artwalk. The department is working to host several established filmmakers to offer free workshops and master classes.

Alumni and others are encouraged to get involved in the 2020 Festival through submitting their own films, volunteering, judging, donating or attending. Through increased efforts to stay engaged with alumni, the department raised more than $6,000 to support initiatives like WIFI through the Feb. 6 Day of Giving and an Impact crowdfunding page in celebration of the 25th anniversary.

“We are truly enjoying establishing these new traditions with students and alumni,” Stover said. “We have been very busy this year, but there is an immediate impact and the rewards are great.”

The Ichabod magazine spring 2021

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. Read the 2021 spring edition online and look for it in mailboxes in May.

View past editions


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