WIFI Film Festival is locally accessible arts program with global connections

Kevin Willmott Speaking Min

Kevin Willmott presenting at last year’s WIFI Film Fest. // Courtesy photo

Washburn University faculty and students have worked hard to present this year’s WIFI film festival, a weekend celebrating the creation and community of film, which is free to the public.

“The event is hosted at Washburn University, the Topeka and Shawnee County Library, Arts Connect, and Evergy Plaza each year. We showcase films all day Saturday, host free workshops at the library, and feature talks with both a local and Hollywood filmmaker,” says WIFI Film Festival Public Relations Director Kristen Grimmer.

Submissions of films to be screened are open until April 1 for the April 21-23 festival. Submission information can be found on the WIFI Film Fest website.

This year’s featured panelist is Micah Brown, owner of the production company Second Wind Creative. Workshops include “Health and Healing in Film” by Dennis Etzel Jr., “Editing in Film” by Allan Holzman, “Entrepreneurship in Filmmaking” by Rick LeJeurne and Leah Jamison, and a “Women in Filmmaking” panel moderated by Sue Vicory and hosted by Darria Dennison. There will also be a public screening of The Goonies at Evergy Plaza hosted by Ethan Jackson. A full schedule of events can be found online. Last year’s festival featured Kevin Willmott, who wrote Blackkk Klansman.

Founding Executive Director of WIFI Film Festival Matthew Nyquist, Managing Director Dr. Maria Stover, and Washburn student and PR Manager Jess Seidel sat down for an interview with The Pitch ahead of this year’s festival.

“Coming in from spending about seven years in Hollywood, my first goal was, we really need to connect these students with the professionals. WIFI is the key to that because we allow the students to share their films along with Academy Award-winning movies and get themselves awards and acclimated with the film festival process, which is really important for their careers,” says Nyquist. “They get to work on the festival in a class format, which I think is huge.”

“And then we have the networking aspect. We always have one Hollywood guest and one successful local filmmaker, so they see the best of both worlds,” Nyquist continues. “And then the educational aspect where we have experts, both from here and Hollywood, who teach free workshops to everybody. The idea in our big push is to try to expand that beyond Washburn and really make it a community event.”

“I want to emphasize that we are in our early stage, yet we have achieved quite a lot,” says Dr. Stover. “We had to take COVID into consideration because it did complicate matters, and we had to cancel one year. But for being a fledgling of a film festival, I can confidently say that we have a very solid lineup of movies. We received, in our first year, submissions from over 100 countries, so the festival always has an international aspect to it, and this has not changed since then. And we also have managed to expand into the community, which very much is in line with Washburn’s mission.”

“It’s a really hands-on experience, which is one of the best parts about being at Washburn,” says student PR Manager Jess Seidel. “As long as you have the desire to be a part of things here, you have the opportunities. I’ve been to a couple of different colleges at this point, both state schools and community colleges, and Washburn really does a great job of making their students feel heard and valued and like our input really matters.”

It’s important to all involved that the festival reach not only filmmakers but the broader community in Kansas and globally.

“While, of course, we want to attract filmmakers and film nerds like myself, the target demographic is really much broader than that,” says Nyquist. “Especially young professionals, who are just about to become our recent alums. That’s really the demographic that is important to attract, both for WIFI and for the community.”

The WIFI Film Festival will be live and in-person at the Rita Blitt Gallery April 21 from 6:30-8:30 p.m.., at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library April 22 from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., at Arts Connect from 3-5 p.m., and at Evergy Plaza April 22 from 5:30-10 p.m. The festival will be on Facebook Live for the awards show April 23 at 2 p.m. Workshops and panels will be simulcast on Facebook Live.

Categories: Culture