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WIFI Film Festival Calls "Action" 


Article by Emmy Fischer

Photography by WIFI Film Festival

Matthew Nyquist is the assistant professor of the Mass Media department at Washburn, specializing in film and video. Though originally from the small town of Lindsborg, Kansas, Matthew realized every young filmmaker’s dream and took to Hollywood to graduate from the prestigious USC School of Cinematic Arts in Los Angeles, CA.  After working in Hollywood for 7 years, Matthew decided to return to his home state to educate all the aspiring filmmakers at Washburn. 

After two years at Washburn, Nyquist approached Maria Stover, the chair of the Mass Media department, to discuss hosting a film festival in the fall of 2018. With more than a little experience in his back pocket, the two professors began to work on creating what would become the WIFI Film Festival.  

“I call it a mad dash,” Stover recalls with a laugh. The film and video department was relatively new, solidified with the recent addition of Nyquist & Sam Finch to the Mass Media department. Despite the newer major, both professors turned an idea into reality in 2019. 

The first year of the WIFI Film Festival, their panel received around 2000 submissions, including the film Skin, which later won the Academy Award for best short film. The attendance on campus was incredible, which encouraged Nyquist to expand the event the next year to off campus. 

Though the festival had a fantastic start, COVID forced them to cancel in 2020. With effects of the virus still lingering, the festival was held virtually in 2021.  

While the first WIFI Film Festival simply played submissions, in 2021, it gained the addition of panels for both students and the community to attend from various speakers. 

This year, panels and events will be held throughout the weekend, free of charge for the community. Every year, Nyquist brings in a Hollywood filmmaker to host a panel, as well as local filmmakers. This year’s lineup includes a panel for women in film, panels for directing, a panel on Disney films, and a movie night at Evergy Plaza. 

For the full list of events taking place at this year’s WIFI Film Festival, check out their itinerary here.

Community involvement has always been at the forefront of Stover’s mind. “This has always been part of our mission, from the very beginning, the idea behind this festival was to provide great quality, to serve the community, yet not be prohibitive in cost.” 

Both professors didn’t want a barrier between the film industry and students and the community. They intended the festival to be an open forum, and that’s exactly the environment it has created. The WIFI Film Festival is free for the community and students to attend, and the entry fee for films is lower than most film festivals across the world. 

As the film department was in its infancy at the beginning of the festival, students were able to grow with the festival. “The students make it better,” states Nyquist. “Each year the students bring amazing ideas.” All the logos, branding, and flyers you see online and around town are all student work. 

Nyquist now offers an upper-level film class for helping put together the WIFI Film Festival. This is a far cry from the first film classes he held, which had 3 students enroll. Now the department boasts full classes and an incredible amount of student work. 

Not only is the festival a great chance for students to submit their work, but it helps them understand events in the industry. “The festival has allowed our students to see what it is to organize an event of that level, and I think for that for a lot of them, this is something that has a fascinating behind the scenes aspect, but also could be very useful down the road,” says Stover. 

Nyquist hopes that the WIFI Film Festival will help bring awareness for the film industry in Topeka. With the artists, talent, and equipment, it’s quite possible Washburn will create a movement of its own. 

“Especially with the way technology is now, there’s no reason that Topeka couldn’t be a very successful place to make films.” Nyquist tells us. “Kansas City is doing it very well. Things are really spreading out. It’s no longer concentrated in LA like it used to be.” 

With Topeka being a much cheaper place to live and work, many of the financial barriers are lowered. This allows more room to focus on the story than jumping through hoops many filmmakers would be required to in LA. 

“Right now, there’s higher demand for video content than ever in the history of humanity. There’s more content being purchased and paid for than ever before. There’s no reason more of it can’t come from here,” Nyquist elaborates.  

With Washburn’s growing mass media department, we wouldn’t be surprised to see the festival impact the growth of the genre in Kansas but also the quality of output. With all its working parts, the WIFI Film Festival is a great addition to Topeka for not only the community aspect, but for aspiring filmmakers and potential investors.  Sponsored by Downtown Topeka Inc., downtown businesses have high hopes for the growth that will come of this festival.

For more information on the Washburn Mass Media Department and how you can get involved, check out their website here.

Join the WIFI Film Festival, the Washburn University Department of Mass Media, and Downtown Topeka for a free screening of The Princess Bride at Evergy Plaza! The movie will begin at 7pm on Friday, April 29th. Poppin’ Minis and Poppin’ Squeeze will be on location for guests to purchase food and drink. Keep an eye out for a video to highlight all that goes on behind the scenes for the Film Festival just before the screening!