The Kansas City Filmmakers Jubilee was founded by Fred Andrews. In 1996, Fred recognized that Kansas City had an active and growing filmmaking community. He had been developing the monthly programs for the Film Society of Greater Kansas City, and found enthusiastic audiences for local filmmakers. However, there were few venues for these local artists to show their work, and fewer opportunities to hone their craft. Having never attended a film festival, Fred took action.
Fred created the Kansas City Filmmakers Jubilee, a collaboration of the Kansas City Art Institute, University of Missouri Kansas City, Independent Filmmakers Coalition, Film Society of Greater Kansas City, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and Avila University. He distributed flyers to local filmmakers and students, inviting them to send entries to the inaugural event. Their entry fees, totaling $270, composed his budget for operations.
The first year, 1997, ten short films were selected. They screened at Royall Hall on the UMKC campus. The only marketing that year was one article by Robert Butler in The Kansas City Star and film community word-of-mouth, but nearly 500 people packed the screening. Filmmakers urged Fred to hold another festival the next year. In 1999, a national advisory board was created for the Jubilee.
Crosscut, Women Making Movies, was envisioned and created by artist, writer, director Debra DiBlasi in 2002. She was on the Jubilee Board and was an instructor at the Kansas City Art Institute. The first Crosscut symposium consisted of two panels. The first panel included a screening of “In & Out of Focus”, a documentary seven years in the making about women in the film business and how they balance children, love lives and career — or how they don’t. The second panel focused on women in documentary filmmaking. Both panels addressed some of the unique advantages women filmmakers offer the film industry, as well as the specific obstacles they face when trying to balance career and family. Opening remarks were made by the honorable Karen McCarthy, Missouri 5th District Congresswoman.
CinemaJAZZ, originating in 2006, was started as a program intended to bridge two artistic communities – jazz and film. The program included screenings of juried media works inspired by jazz, curated screenings, seminars and live jazz performances. This program was developed as a collaboration of the Kansas City Filmmakers Jubilee, Mutual Musicians Foundation and the American Jazz Museum.
The inaugural “CinemaJAZZ, program was a celebration of the images, sounds, and stories inspired by JAZZ with screenings and live performances. It featured a live jazz performance by KC’s legendary jazz masters The Scamps and a screening of “Riffs: A Kansas City Coda”. A jazz film, “Riffs” is a documentary short on Kansas City jazz, produced by local Kansas City filmmaker Glenn Stewart, featuring Kansas City jazz legends Bobby Watson, The Scamps, Myra Taylor, David Basse, Art Jackson and other Kansas City Jazz artists and locations.
In 2008, the Jubilee partnered with FilmFest KC — another Kansas City-based film festival that had been organized for years by the Film Society of Greater Kansas City — to become Kansas City FilmFest. Some members of the former FilmFest KC Board joined the Kansas City Filmmakers Jubilee governing board, while others joined the Heartland Advisory Board. This partnership changed the game for the festival. While the Jubilee mostly focused on short films, the partnership with FilmFest Kansas City brought with it Reel Spirit, a children’s film competition showcase and screenings of feature-length films and documentaries from across the globe. Today, Kansas City FilmFest features all of the elements of the former FilmFest Kansas City, as well as those of the Kansas City Filmmakers Jubilee.
In 2009 the festival needed more screens for growing audiences and moved from the Tivoli in Westport location to the downtown area, renting out three theaters in AMC’s Mainstreet Theater. In 2012 Alamo Drafthouse Cinema took over management of the theater that had served as the main KC FilmFest venue over the previous four festivals. Reel Spirit, the children’s competition, became an official part of Kansas City FilmFest and added video camps for children in 2013. After 4 years at the location 1400 Main in the Kansas City Power & Light District, the festival once again needed to add more theatres, and moved to the Cinemark Palace on the Country Club Plaza.
Now known as the Kansas City FilmFest, the event has grown steadily. Since its humble beginnings in 1997, the FilmFest has received thousands of entries from all over the world. More than $200,000 in cash and prizes have been awarded in the juried competition.