MADISON, Wis. — The first ever Madison Film Festival kicked off Saturday at the Bartell Theatre.

What You Need To Know

  • The Madison Film festival held its first event at the Bartell Theatre Saturday

  • The festival was founded by Jared Rosenthal, a senior at UW Madison, and Grey Smoley, a senior at New York University

  • The festival received over 500 submissions from filmmakers all over the world

  • Categories included Best Horror, Best Animation and Best Student Film

Co-founders Jared Rosenthal and Grey Smoley bonded over a love of filmmaking. When they were looking for festivals to submit their work to, they realized there wasn’t anything available to them in Wisconsin.

“We looked on FilmFreeway and we couldn’t find it, so we decided to start it on our own,” Rosenthal said.

They knew they wanted this festival to be different. Both are rising seniors in college, Rosenthal at the University of Wisconsin Madison and Smoley at New York University.

They decided to open submissions to filmmakers of any age and skill level.

“We are for the emerging artists. We are emerging artists,” Rosenthal said. “So, we understand that voice.”

The two have been hard at work over the past year securing sponsors, submissions and a place to hold the event.

“We actually thought it was going to be simpler, but it was a little more challenging than what we thought,” Smoley said.

They also secured a board of industry professionals to help judge submissions, including screenwriter Alex Convery. Convery’s wife is also a UW Madison Alum, and he said being a part of this festival was an easy decision for him.

“You rarely see a festival like this that’s so grassroots, and I just love the spirit behind it,” he said. “I was a film student myself not too long ago, so it’s really inspiring to see people in the same position go out and do something.”

Smoley and Rosenthal received more than 500 submissions and were also able to offer cash prizes, all in their first year. They said they were confident in their abilities.

“Once we hit that goal, we were super happy about it,” Smoley said. “We hope to grow each year and continue growth.”

They hope this festival can give filmmakers a leg up this year and for many years to come.

“It’s the foundation for future collaborations, for people to appreciate each other’s hard work, and it’s always about having fun,” Rosenthal said. “When you’re making a movie, we know specifically, it’s like summer camp, it’s fun.”

While this year’s event only took place Saturday, Rosenthal and Smoley hope to expand the festival to cover multiple days and venues.