This weekend, downtown Logan is going to become a hub for creativity, as we see the fifth annual incarnation of The Block Film & Art Festival. Kicking off on Oct. 7, the two-day festival will showcase a collection of local, national and international shorts and features, many of which will be making their Utah debut, while others have been receiving national recognition as they make their way through the festival circuit. Accompanying the film side will be dozens of artistic exhibitions scattered throughout the area, and live performances from local musicians. Today we chat with two of the festival's organizers, Mason Johnson and Weston Woodbury, as they prepare for this weekend's festivities. (All photos provided courtesy of the festival.
Mason Johnson & Weston Woodbury
Gavin: Hey guys! First off, tell us a bit about yourselves.
My name is Mason Johnson, filmmaker and producer of The Block Film & Art Festival.
I run Woodbury Productions and am a filmmaker as well. I've been involved with Logan Film Festival since it started for its five years, and the vision behind this new idea, the film portion of The Block, which is about turning Center & Main in downtown Logan into a weekend celebration of independent art. So that means art exhibits and installations, music line-ups, and education talks. I've been in the area over
eight years, and graduated from Utah State with an interdisciplinary degree emphasizing design and film.
What first sparked each of your interests in film?
My love for movies stems back to the movies I watched countlessly when I was a child. Top movies I watched hundreds of times as a youngun'
were Ferris Bueller's Day Off
, the original Star Wars
trilogy, pretty much anything produced by Disney, especially Toy Story
, Lion King
and Robin Hood
. I developed a fascination with Mel Brooks from an early age, thanks to my father, Jack. I loved storytelling, I loved experiencing the range of emotions stories told on screen could evoke. I read a lot of fiction up until I was about 13, where I found myself latching onto not just movies, but video games as well, because that industry was in its infancy of also exploring visual narratives. I could see the stories unfold as opposed to just reading them. I was also really into conceptual music from an early age, stuff that made me think about the content and not just Top 40, though that had its charm in my life too. My brother got me into bands like Queensryche, Metallica and Dr. Dre. I soon began developing a fever for more explorative work in music, performers like The Mars Volta, Sigur Ros, Radiohead, Cursive, Sage Francis, Tool. They got me thinking of what humanity is—what's the story behind all of us? I began piecing together short films and little video montages when I was a teenager and realized more and more that I wanted to do something like this for a living when I got older. Flash-forward to my 20s, I started really getting into the narrative aspects of what made a good, concrete story arc. I started really paying attention to the work of Danny Boyle, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson and David Fincher, among many more filmmakers. I observed more in an effort to understand how to patch together my own pieces of artistic integrity that I could apply to the projects I worked on. My son Simon and I are also huge gamers. We've conquered nearly every Zelda
game. We love us some Mario too, pretty much anything by Nintendo. PlayStation's been great to me as well. I don't know how many times I've played the Uncharted
series and The Last of Us
. Recently, I was extremely impressed with Grand Theft Auto V
. It was an incredible narrative. I guess I don't just love film. I love all narratives. I have resorted back to books a lot lately but video games will also always be such a great way to experience storytelling. I feel like I rambled. Haha!
I was roped into doing silly online shorts during early college years, and when I got an associate's and moved to Utah State for further studies, I just happened to land a job with a professor who needed video producers. Meanwhile, the friend I did the online videos with, Michael Zaccaria, went on to film school in Los Angeles, and we continued to collaborate. I scored and helped in other aspects with his thesis film and several of his follow-up shorts. With that and the video gig in Logan, it all grew from there as I worked sports with the University, expanded to take on my own clients, and even produce and edit a recent feature film. As far as the film medium, I really was sucked into the art of filmmaking first by playing around with music/composing and loving the music of Clint Mansell. I watched any film he scored that I could get my hands on. This leads to Pi
, Requiem for a Dream
, and The Fountain
, and it was around that time that doing any sort of real filmmaking was becoming interesting as something I wanted to do. Naturally, other related influences helped spark interest—the films of Fincher, Coen Brothers, etc.—but Clint was my foot in the door to really taking a serious interest in film
Mason, how did you find your way to Logan?
I was raised in Logan. My family had a house near Woodruff Elementary. I lived in Las Vegas for about three years and attended UNLV for a while. I have live on the road as well for a few years of my life, touring the world multiple times as a video producer for musicians such as the awesome and inspiring Lindsey Stirling. I have found myself in all sorts of crazy places for multiple projects. But I've kept Logan as a home base as I raise my child.
When did you two first meet and become friends?
I met Woodbury, I wanna say five and a half years ago. We had both applied for the same job. We both got denied employment and didn't know each other at the time. I checked out his work and found myself envious of his skills. I pitched him to collaborate on a music video project, he agreed. And now we've done lots together. It's been hugely beneficial, he pushes me and I reciprocate. When you have someone to challenge you, you get better at what you do.
Mason covered it. I remember him inviting me onto one of his projects, a music video for some music he made, and from there we've really been working together consistently whenever we can.
How did the idea to start a film festival in Logan come about? Where did the name come from?
The idea was really one of necessity—there is not an official film school or degree in Logan or Utah State, but there is a plethora of talented people, professionals, students, etc. who love to make films and work on video projects. But there's not a hub for it, there's a lot of little things scattered, many of which often don't even know about the other. One effort was Caine College of Art's "Fringe Film Festival" in which they would have a theme and give away cash prizes and such for students. As a member of something some colleagues of mine created, the Utah State Film Club, we decided to do our own festival that was more about just showing work that people have already created, we called it the Real 2 Reel Film Festival. After only a year of that, a mentor to most of the film and design community here at the time, professor Alan Hashimoto at Caine College brought everyone into a room and ignited a combined effort to make a "real film festival" essentially. We took entries, advertised all over, rented real theaters, and had a great and exciting first year. He, notably casually during an interview, came up with the phrase "a celebration of independent artistic expression" which is essentially the core of what we are developing with The Block.
I was not around in the original discussions for LFF with Alan Hashimoto and the rest of the founding members. However, I did sign on shortly after to work as a Volunteer Manager the first year of the festival. My responsibilities increased in subsequent years.
Were there any festivals you patterned it from, or was it more a mesh of ideas?
Not really. We might have had influences and be a bit of a hybrid as a result, but we really want to be our own thing, and be doing something truly unique that people are excited to come to experience. One of the ideas in creating The Block this year was answering the question of:
How do we, as a film festival, differentiate ourselves from hundreds of other film festivals across the nation? We work at the music and arts festival Mason mentioned that are all about the experience and just coming to see cool things. So, that being something we don't find in Utah much, and especially not in Logan, fusing that kind of environment with the existing film festival was an idea too good to ignore, once we came up with it. The Block again is based on intimacy, we have four histrionic theaters in one single block—that's unique. That'll be something different from any of the festival influences we can come up with that seem similar to what we are doing; most of them are giant and spread across huge areas where you may even be catching buses to get around. The Block is one block.
Speaking of the expansion, there were a few events we modeled the dynamics on. Telluride, Life is Beautiful and Electric Daisy Carnival. We are both part of the production crew for LiB and EDC every year so we've gotten a lot of influence from how those festivals are organized.
Even though it's primarily a film festival, you incorporate arts and music into the events like SXSW would. What made you decide to put an emphasis on those as well?
I think this stems, at least for me, from time spent working these massive music festivals every year, multiple times a year. I've worked at Summer Sonic in Japan, Supersonic Festival in South Korea, Bravalla Festival in Sweden, SXSW in Austin, Life is Beautiful and Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas. After having toured and experienced so much of how things work at these massive gatherings, you start to realize just how hard it is to do a good job at tying together the humanity of an event like that while calculating for so many other aspects of the organization. So when we gave ourselves new direction this year, we put it all on the table as something to aim for—and alas, here we are.
What was it like setting up the first event, and how did it go for you?
I remember getting a lot of great feedback from people saying this was a great way to start the festival, that Cache Valley needs a film festival. Remember, I was only the Volunteer Manager that year and so I didn't have much merit in my experience for LFF at the time. But I do remember a lot of good feedback. We had good films and a good attitude. I think that lined us up nicely for the second annual one year later.
I think every year is a challenge, and you always want to push and do things better each time. So the first year might have been crazy and wild to put together, but it's kind of been every year since too, and in the end we do what we can and put on a great event we're proud of and people continue to turn out in larger and more sustaining quantities each year, so we'll keep going!
Did you know you'd be back after the first or was everything a wait-and-see kind of scenario?
2013 was a really hard year for everyone with Alan Hashimoto passing away. The festival came together that year, but his loss was definitely felt. I believe I was in Europe somewhere when I got the news of his loss. It hit me pretty hard, though my relationship with Alan was strictly through Logan Film Festival. Our other organizers have a deeply seeded history with his influence ,and it shows through the work they produce.
It was successful enough that we were definitely full throttle into year two. As Mason mentioned, the founder—and everyone's mentor and inspiration for what we were doing—unexpectedly passed about two months before the festival. But, everything was already going and we just had to follow through and put on the festival and honor Alan throughout. We still and may always dedicate the event to him.
What's the process like in choosing the films you show each year?
We open for entries early in the festival's season (around November), collect entries through FilmFreeway, Withoutabox, and mail in, and pre-screeners watch them throughout the year. There're two tiers that they go through, so many of them get watched at least three times in the process, including by both staff and volunteers, and finally, suggestions are given to our programmer Andy to make the final decision on what and where we can fit things in.
Tell us a bit about this year's lineup and the films you're most excited to show.
This year's lineup includes Artifice
, a film created by a very savvy (mostly) regional cast and crew, Occupy Texas
with Lorelei Linklater (Richard Linklater's daughter), and a few others. I'm mostly excited to see how Artifice
screens. There are a lot of people that contributed to that film that really deserves the credit to push forward in their careers. The cast and crew were spot
Weston: Most Likely to Succeed
, Life, Animated
, The Landscape Within
, our Animation and New Media block, O
, Brazen Age
, and a little something called The Experiment Room: a small makeshift venue with a loop of the best experimental films we had submitted. These are all (or contain) very high rated stuff, and the first two documentaries I mentioned are award winning or nominated from places like Sundance, SXSW, and Tribeca. They're really good. Artifice is a hometown player and will totally exceed people's expectations; go to it. Trailers, showtimes, and more info on all of these can be found at our website.
On the art side, who will you have on display throughout the fest?
Lots of confirmed art this year! This being the first year of The Block, I'm excited to see how people respond to the full scope and vision of what we've created for the festival. Mateo Rueda, Emily Walker, Mark Koven, Mark Boxx, Raymond Veon, Kiera Saltern, Andy Worall
, Mikey Kettinger, just to name a few.
Check out the website and go to the Art program tab. The line up is there; Mason hit on some of the things to look forward to. I'm particularly excited for the outdoor installations. We'll have projects on buildings, large art pieces around or hung places, and even the main stage itself that bands play on, will be a cool art installation and unlike any stage
you've ever seen. It'll be smaller and intimate but a lot of fun.
What bands can people expect to see this time around?
We have more than 30 bands playing in four different venues that weekend, including a main
stage behind the Eccles in the parking lot. It'll be a good time. Panthermilk, Earthestra
, B. Dolan, Wheelchair Sports Camp, TelePathiQ, Hectic Hobo, My New Mistress—the list goes on and on.
Similarly, more can be found online. These are local and regional acts. There's also an improv group performing, a standup comedy hour, and an independent play scheduled.
For those who haven't been, what do you suggest to people who are going for the first time to get the most out of the experience?
We've given pass-holders many options. If they are not coming for film, they are coming for music, art galleries and our education program, which we've appropriately titled "Learn." I suggest attendees take a look at the program when they arrive and roam from one thing to the next at their discretion. There are many choices! The most important thing is that The Block provides the freedom to enjoy a simple celebration of the arts, we want our attendees to leave the weekend of Oct. 7 - 8 feeling inspired.
Check out the lineup, explore the trailers and descriptions of all the events and just kind of map out what you want to see. Plan some time to just walk around to galleries and installations and check that stuff out.
Where do you hope to take the festival down the road as it grows?
Our goal with The Block is to network artists, pass-holders, and local businesses together so that everyone who experiences the event will feel a really positive impact and much-needed connection. We need to remain focused on 2016 so that when planning for 2017 comes we'll have more opportunities. Those relationships and connections are what will shape our future.
We're not looking to become an enormous clone of another huge festival we're all familiar with; we want to show off the cool geographic location we have and be a hub for artists and art lovers of all kinds to look forward to each year.
What can we expect from both of you after the festival is done?
Dates for 2017 and radio silence while I sleep for a few days!
We'll roll into 2017 with more time on our hands to put together The Block as a rounded concept. We have a lot this year to show off and it'll be a great time, but there's a lot of room for improvement as well and we're excited to have the concept laid down and we can focus more on the year around organization effort. I encourage anyone who is interested in this idea to get in touch via the Volunteer section of our website. We'd love to collaborate, and as a 100 percent volunteer, non-profit organization, we definitely make good use of all the help we can get!