First-ever Madison Film Festival

First-ever Madison Film Festival

Five years ago, Jared Rosenthal met Grey Smoley at Pace University in New York. They bonded over their passion for film. This past year, the two collaborated on a film project. Their short film “Slice” won the Web, Audio, and Visual Excellence (WAVE) Award presented by the Madison Media Professionals. After that, they wanted to submit their film to a festival but found there was a shortage of film festivals in the Midwest.

Madison, Wisconsin is not known for being a film hub. However Rosenthal and Smoley want to change this narrative. Together, they created the first-ever Madison Film Festival.

The Madison Film Festival will take place Aug. 26, 2023 at the Bartell Theater. The board members are accepting films from all over the world, but the goal is to build the arts community in Madison.

“With this festival, I think we can have a really unique opportunity to recruit more artists and give people here another platform to express themselves,” said Rosenthal.

Rosenthal is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has always had a huge passion for Madison and film. Growing up a badger fan, he wants to show the world the city of Madison. This film festival is bringing him one step closer to achieving this goal.

“I love this city. And I think it has so much to offer and there are so many things that haven’t happened here yet that easily can,” Rosenthal said.

Smoley is a student at New York University Tisch School of Arts majoring in filmmaking and television. His dream is to become a director and a producer. The Madison Film Festival is showing him the other side of filmmaking.

“I’ve always been someone who is submitting. Now being on the other side of it and curating a festival to the needs of a filmmaker is huge,” Smoley said. “My favorite part about film is waking up and going to set. Having a crew around you and being able to make something that is unique and creative and tells your story.”

The festival started taking submissions Dec. 1, 2022 and the deadline is Aug. 1, 2023. Filmmakers can submit their films through FilmFreeway. Rosenthal said that right now is the prime time to submit films because it is at its cheapest price of $10. The cost will increase each month.

“We’re one of the smallest festivals on FilmFreeway because we haven't even conducted our first year yet and we are giving away cash prizes, which is very unique,” Smoley said.

Photo of FilmFreeway advertising the festival, courtesy of Jared Rosenthal

Not only will winners receive cash prizes, but the board is in contact with one of the top screenwriting software programs to sponsor the festival. If so, the prize will also include subscription packages.

“We are sort of curating the awards in this festival to be almost like a kit for you to go out and make your next film,” Smoley said. “You have your screenwriting software, you have cash to go make your move, and whatever else we add up until the festival date.”

There are already 30 submissions to the festival. Rosenthal expects the board to receive over a thousand. According to Smoley, many students from NYU are submitting films.

“With our span between him and I, him being in New York and me being here, we can really attract people from all over the country and bring them to Madison,” Rosenthal said. “The whole point is to promote, expand and build the arts community here.”

There are 13 board members on the board ranging from students to people who work for Netflix and Lionsgate. Rosenthal said they have a strong grasp of the student body and the culture of Madison because there are both students and adults running the festival.

“We’ve been able to recruit people in the industry from all over the country,” Rosenthal said.

Rosenthal was able to connect with these people through pure commitment and courage.

“He’s the kind of cold calling, so he really reached out to all those people, never knew them beforehand, and was able to bring them into the team, which was phenomenal,” Smoley said.

There is a Wisconsin Film Festival in the spring, but Rosenthal and Grey wanted to create one in Madison to promote locality and they want to have one in the summer. Rosenthal decided to make a Madison Film Festival now because he has built up some energy for film within the past year.

He started the Badger Film Group in December 2021. They have produced six short films and recently premiered “Watch Out.” This is the first hour-long movie. Rosenthal has made a name for himself and wanted people to know to take this seriously.

Photo of Rosenthal directing in the Badger Film Group, courtesy of Jared Rosenthal

“After I had built some energy in the community, I thought it was time that we expand even further,” Rosenthal said. “It’s just this continuous effort to put Madison on the map.”

The locality aspect attracted the Badger Film Club. Rohan Pemmasani, the club's current leader, said members of this club want to see the film they have created on the big screen.

“The Madison Film Festival would be a huge morale boost,” said Pemmasani. “For the first time we actually get to see the screening going on in the process and actually feel like we contributed something that's actually proper.”

Rosenthal is attending the Sundance Film Festival to spread the word about the Madison Film Festival. He plans on talking with directors to see how he and other board members can make this festival a success. Film can connect people differently, according to Pemmasani.

“The medium itself connects close to the human experience, smarter than any other medium. I think for literature you can only describe what’s about to happen. But a film is more immediate and more personal in my opinion,” Pemmasani said.

Rosenthal and Grey are both excited about what this can do for filmmakers in Madison.

“There is creativity in this town,” Rosenthal said. “And it’s going to bring people of all ages and backgrounds and cultures together.”


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