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The 3rd Independent Film Festival Ypsilanti to launch as intended for the 1st time

iFFY logo
Independent Film Festival-Ypsilanti
iFFY logo


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and Ypsilanti is about to bustle with creative people and activity as the third season of the Independent Film Festival Ypsilanti gets underway. I'm David Fair, and iFFY, as it's affectionately referred to, begins on Thursday, runs through Saturday at the Riverside Arts Center. Being able to put this festival on live and in-person has been a long time coming, and we're glad to say the time has arrived. Joining me today are two guests. Martin Thoburn is co-founder of the festival. And, Martin, thank you so much for being here today.

Martin Thoburn: Thanks for having me.

David Fair: And Natalia Rocafuerte is the new film festival director. And welcome to WEMU.

Natalia Rocafuerte: Hi. Thank you for having me.

David Fair: Well, Martin, how did you and Donald Harrison come up with the idea for a festival that would be centered in Ypsilanti?

iFFY co-founder Martin Thoburn
Martin Thoburn
iFFY co-founder Martin Thoburn

Martin Thoburn: Well, Don and I are both longtime residents of Ypsi--me, especially--and I met Donald when he was working at the Ann Arbor Film Festival. And I know when he was there, he was interested in having sort of a shadow-off alternative festival in Ypsi around the same time as Ann Arbor. And it never really took off. And we were just sort of brainstorming. He came up with the word iffy, and we thought that name was so good we had to make it happen. And here we are today.

David Fair: Certainly looks good on a T-shirt.

Martin Thoburn: There you go. That's right. So, the name dictated the cause here, I think.

David Fair: And the pandemic certainly put a crimp in how you've had to go about presentation through the first two runs.

Martin Thoburn: That's right. Yeah. The very first launch we were going to go in 2020. We had all our programing lined up. Everything was set to go, and lockdown happened. So, we quickly pivoted to a virtual event. All ticket sales went to charity. That went very well, considering the circumstances, but we're really excited to come back live in-person this year, finally.

David Fair: Natalia, this is your first year with the festival, and you get to oversee its presentation in its desired form. Your path to the job is really interesting. You recently received your Masters of Fine Arts from the University of Michigan. You won Best Michigan filmmaker at the 59th Ann Arbor Film Festival for your thesis movie. It was called "Dream of Emma and Toni." How does all of that experience inform how you go about curating and putting forth a festival?

iFFY executive director Natalia Rocafuerte
Natalia Rocafuerte
iFFY executive director Natalia Rocafuerte

Natalia Rocafuerte: Yeah, Dave. Well, I've always been really interested in communities and sharing and amplifying stories. My MFA thesis was actually on Border Blaster radio stations where I collected dreams and create them into films. And, through that, I think I was able to see a lot of films also being part of the Ann Arbor Film Fest that I just felt like there is a lot of voices out there that could really join our festival as well. And, yeah, I love making filmmaker friends and being part of communities, so directing this festival was really a way to kind of use those skills of meeting artists across not just the country, but the globe and bringing them to Ypsilanti and also highlighting local artists and filmmakers.

David Fair: And along those lines, you accepted open submissions this time around. How many did you get?

Natalia Rocafuerte: Yeah, our Michigan-made program, which is on Thursday, June 2nd at 9 p.m.--day one of our festival--we had over 200 submissions this year from filmmakers all around the globe. And, yeah, we have animation, we have narrative, we have all sorts of shorts, and we really want to expand this program because we weren't able to play all the films we wanted because we were so overwhelmed with filmmakers that were so talented in our area.

David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU. We're talking with Natalia Rocafuerte and Martin Thoburn about the Independent Film Festival Ypsilanti that kicks off tomorrow and runs through Saturday at the Riverside Art Center. And, Natalia, across the three days you've set this up so the festival will feature a total of six programs. What's the breakdown?

Natalia Rocafuerte: So, we're three days, three nights, 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. screenings. So, day one, we open with our Michigan-made shorts, which were submissions, and a 9 p.m. screening of "Hamtramck, USA," which is by local filmmaker Razi Jafri. And that highlights Hamtramck. And we also have day 2, Friday, June 3rd at 7 p.m.. We have our London International Animation Festival best of screening. Think more Adult Swim in terms of these animations. And then, at 9 p.m., we have "The Underground Picnic," which is all things underground considered. And these are shorts, both highlighting queer filmmakers, as well as just kind of avant garde art, video, film, kind of weird stuff. And then, we close off our festival on Saturday--day three, June 4th at 7 p.m. We have a "Stars in our Eyes" screening, which is kind of a all the films that we loved that were shorts, and that one has more of an existential reckoning kind of theme. And, at 9 p.m., we have sound, vision and motion in our program called "Acoustic Convergence," and that is programmed by Hafsa, who's part of iFFY. And this is her third year programming films. And that one's kind of more experimental acoustic. Everyone who loves music and videos should definitely come check out these films.

David Fair: And, Martin, the subject matter is diverse. The manner of methodology and ideology is diverse. What is the mission originally to create that kind of diversity in programming, to highlight what not only Michigan has to offer, but what the rest of the world can bring to Ypsilanti?

Martin Thoburn: Yeah, that's correct. We definitely wanted to have an international feel where we're bringing in works that inspire us and see and watch them locally. That started with the first screening we did of the Ottawa Best of Ottawa Animation Program, and we now have a best of London animation. So, we're bringing in international works. But, yeah, it's all about fostering the local film arts community in southeastern Michigan. I mean, that's really our mission. And so, that that is sort of the staple of why we want to have a festival in Ypsi. We don't have a movie theater, but we have a lot of artists and creatives in this community, and that's just a way for us to foster and nurture that community.

David Fair: And, Natalia, you said you love to engage with other filmmakers, so not only are the film programs diverse, but diversity in the people putting forth the festival, it seems to be an intentional community building way to create connection and engagement. Is that how you approach what you want people to see and walk away with?

Natalia Rocafuerte: Definitely. We have over 40 filmmakers this third season of iFFY. Some of them will be in attendance because we'll be hosting Q&As after screenings. And we'll also be having ten premiering shorts. So, this is not only a festival that's bringing in local talent, but we're also premiering and highlighting works internationally and part of our global community. And, yeah, we're just kind of also highlighting a playful spirit of independence and bringing together filmmakers and people who love films for three nights.

David Fair: Our WEMU conversation about the three-day Independent Film Festival Ypsilanti, or iFFY as you've heard it referred to, continues. We have with us today the festival co-founder, Martin Thoburn, and festival director Natalia Rocafuerte. And, Martin, you've gone through some business model changes since the idea was first put forth. You've gone to a full nonprofit model. Does that change benefits to the festival itself and to the audiences of today and potentially future?

Martin Thoburn: It won't change anything in terms of how people experience the festival, but it will change how we can gather resources and how we can serve our mission. So, it just aligns better with our mission of fostering the film arts community. Now, we can seek grants and other funding sources to help foster that mission, so it really just allows us another revenue stream. We've always had our sponsors and our local community partners, and we're so excited that they are staying with us and continue to help support us. But this will also allow other revenue streams that a nonprofit is entitled to.

David Fair: As a nonprofit, is that part of what allows you to charge only $8 or $10 per ticket in advance?

Martin Thoburn: Yeah, that's right. I mean, we really want to make this accessible for the community. So, that's why we price $8 to $10 for our ticket sales. It's just what we feel is appropriate for maximizing outreach.

David Fair: And this really has another opportunity, and that is to highlight the historic Riverside Arts Center.

Martin Thoburn: Absolutely.

David Fair: How fun is it going to be to have people actually gather in there again for an event that really highlights the community?

Martin Thoburn: Absolutely. Yeah. We're super excited the Riverside Arts Center is back open. It was shut down for a while. And so, we're excited to be part of it's coming back to life here.

David Fair: I'm sure that it's something akin to choosing a favorite child, but what would each of you pick as the highlight of this year's offering? We'll start with you, Natalia.

Natalia Rocafuerte: Well, I guess I'll have to pick "The Underground Picnic" just because it's a good mix of filmmakers who are also friends of mine that I got to curate. But we also brought in some international incredible artists like the artist Cassels, Sandra Ibarra. We really got some, like, hard hitters in the art world. Yeah, it's part of our film video screening. And I also love Hafsa's program, "Acoustic Convergence." I'm a big music fan. It reminds me a lot of David Bowie's sound and vision. It's just a combination of ambient sounds and incredible animations and, yeah, visual poetry.

David Fair: Yeah, visual and aural transportation through the medium of film. And what was your favorite, Martin?

Martin Thoburn: I was really impressed with the documentary, "Hamtramck." So, that's our only feature film. That's on Friday at 9 p.m. Really, really amazing story there about the community of Hamtramck and their mayoral race and their seats for their local government. It is really interesting to see how the filmmaker really captured that and really creative use of sound in visual storytelling. It's just really captivating and inspiring. Check it out.

David Fair: So, this is the first year that iFFY--the festival--gets presented as designed with people showing up in full attendance and in person and experiencing it together. How are you going to gauge success? How have you collectively decided that we'll measure it this way?

Martin Thoburn: I want to gauge success on attendance. Natalia, how about you? What do you think?

Natalia Rocafuerte: Well, I like the way you kind of put it, Martin, where you're bringing a festival to a town without a movie theater.

Martin Thoburn: Yeah.

Natalia Rocafuerte: So, I think just bringing incredible films where we could all kind of gather and enjoy. We also are part of First Friday in downtown Ypsilanti. So, you can come out and check out some films and also support local businesses. Things will be open late. So, I think, yeah, having the rocking party with films will be the way I'll gauge it.

Martin Thoburn: Yeah. Audience reaction for sure. I want to see some smiles and some jaws dropped and some, some laughing and maybe a tear or two.

David Fair: Well, maybe a couple of days after the festival ends, and you guys get some sleep, we'll check in and see exactly how you feel about it.

Martin Thoburn: Excellent. Yeah, we're looking forward to it.

David Fair: Well, thank you both for the time today and all the best with the festival. I do wish you well.

Natalia Rocafuerte: Thank you, Dave.

Martin Thoburn: Thank you so much.

David Fair: That is independent Film Festival Ypsilanti co-founder Martin Thoburn and festival director Natalia Rocafuerte. And the three-day festival runs Thursday through Saturday at the Riverside Art Center. You can find out more and get your advance tickets at iffy ypsi dot com. That's I-F-F-Y-P-S-I dot com. Now, feel free to check our website for more information, and we'll have that link available to you if that's more convenient. You'll find that at WEMU dot org. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM and HD one Ypsilanti.


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