A Conversation with Jonathan Wells, Festival Director of ResFest
by Tim LaTorre
As ResFest ’97 continues its mission to inspire a new era of independent
digital filmmaking with a stop in NYC this weekend, indieWIRE decided it
was time to get some background on how the relatively newborn fest came
into being. Jonathan Wells, the festival director, busy with preparations
for two back-to-back editions of the digital filmmaking showcase, last
weekend’s Chicago date and this weekend’s Manhattan fest, took time to sit
down and tell us where they have been and where they are going.
indieWIRE: How did ResFest come about?
Jonathan Wells: Late last fall my partner and I, who were doing Low Res
[Film Festival] together, separated and a lot of the people who worked on
Low Res came to work on ResFest. Johnny, who was a production manager at
last year’s Low Res is the Managing Director of ResFest. Last December we
formulated what we wanted to do and in January we launched ResFest and the
first preview issue of Res magazine with Karol Martesko from Filmmaker
Magazine. We started out at Sundance…and then did a lot of international
events. We were in Montreal in June and kicked off the first U.S. ResFest
date in LA in August.
iW: What were the origins of Low Res Film Festival?
Wells: My former partner, Bart Cheever, and I used to work at this
multimedia company, Digital Pictures. We were both working there making
video games, digital video-based CD-ROMs, and interactive video. I got a
lot of hands-on experience in non-linear editing and effecting video and
stuff like that. I fucked around and made some films late at night and
found out that there were people doing that also. That’s how we put
together the first Low Res festival, just colleagues. Then the website
started generating outside interest. So it really kind of happened by
accident and then it evolved into much more.
iW: Why did Low Res fold?
Wells: I was working on it full time because the company that Bart and I
worked for went bankrupt, so we started going our own separate ways and the
direction I wanted to go with the festival was different that were he
wanted to go.
iW: How would you define the difference in vision?
Wells: I don’t know, I can’t really speak for Bart. I definitely wanted to
move away from the “low” in Low Res and really showcase work of quality no
matter how it was made. I thought there were things we were showing in Low
Res that made it dishonest to say that something was a low budget digital
film when it cost $500,000 to make it. There’s always going to be a
blurring of lines because that’s what the whole thing is all about, how
technology is blurring the lines between what is consumer and what is
professional, what is a videomaker and what is a filmmaker. So, that’s what
we wanted to do with ResFest. Showcase great work and in a way downplay
[the digital side]. So what if it’s digital, we want to show it because
there is something of value in it, not because it is digital.
iW: How do you choose films for ResFest?
Wells: Of the two shorts programs we have, the music program was almost all
curated. That came out of my experience doing music video shows for more
than 10 years now. I have a lot of contacts in the music industry and a
show called “Flux” that airs in New York, which is an electronic music
video show that’s been around for a long time now. So I’ve used my contacts
to go out and look for stuff to show in that program. The shorts program,
ResFest Shorts, was a combination of stuff that we went out and sought,
like Mike Mills’ film or the Roman Coppola film, and other work that was
submitted to us from the website or from our own call for entries.
iW: Do you get a lot of submissions?
Wells: We got several hundred entries over the course of the year. We want
to generate a lot more and work out some outreaches with universities and
art schools that are training in animation and video.
iW: How do you see ResFest growing? Are you going to add more programs?
Wells: It wasn’t easy to program our festival this year because although we
did get a lot of submissions, they were of different qualities. They ranged
from exceptional to not really worthy at all. That’s one of the reasons I
want to bring up the quantity of submissions, so we can increase the subset
that is great. I would hope that we could add more programs next year, but
it’s all going to be based on the quality of work that we get into the
festival. We’ve had a really great response from the panels we’ve done.
This past year we’ve gone everywhere from Sundance to Rotterdam to Montreal
to all these different festivals and we’ve seen how people have
incorporated digital programming or how they’ve done panels. We’re also
interested in developing a workshop or something that broadens what our
festival is, so that it is not just a screening of a shorts program, but
rather it’s exhibits, it’s a panel, it’s a party, there’s all this stuff
that make it an event. These films are not really seen much elsewhere and
if they were, they might be seen only on someone’s computer screen.