The second annual Wydaho Adventure Film Festival is returning to Victor Aug. 12 and 13. KHOL film critic Jeff Counts recently sat down with event co-founder Phil Mollenkof to talk about starting a local film festival from scratch.
JEFF COUNTS/KHOL: Welcome back to On Set on KHOL. I’m Jeff Counts. I’m joined today by Phil Mollenkof. He’s one of the founders of the Wydaho Adventure Film Festival in Victor. They’re having their second year this year. Welcome, Phil.
PHIL MOLLENKOF: Thanks. Good to be here.
KHOL: So, for those of us who didn’t listen to our chat last year or maybe didn’t attend, talk a little bit about what Wydaho is—explain it.
MOLLENKOF: So, it is a[n] adventure film festival that started last year. Last year was our inaugural year. My wife and I and two boys moved here four years ago to Victor, Idaho. And we felt like, you know, we love the Teton Valley, we love Jackson, we love this area. But we felt like there wasn’t a homegrown adventure film festival. There’s so many cool people doing amazing things here—filmmakers, adventurers, people telling stories. But there wasn’t a place, you know, there’s film tours and things like that, but there wasn’t a place where we could celebrate local people doing amazing things. And so, we thought, ‘Let’s do this, and let’s create a sense of community around it.’
KHOL: These are short-form films, right?
MOLLENKOF: Yes, correct. So, as of now, they’re like anywhere from 5 minutes to 25-30 minutes. Yeah.
KHOL: So, festivals are super hard to pull off, obviously, and year one can be like a dunk tank experience. I’m sure it was for you. What did you learn last year that you hope will make year two even better?
MOLLENKOF: Yeah. So, when we did it, this was like very grassroots—just my wife and I and, you know, grabbing our friends to volunteer and getting some brands to sponsor. And we had no idea how many people would come or what it would look like. And it was just like a big, big trust of like it’s one of those, like, ‘If you build it, will they come?’ deal. And we did it. And I think we were like, ‘If we get 200 people or 100 people, we’ll be happy.’ And there were over 400 people that came, which we were just blown away by. So, I think probably one thing we learned is, like, yeah, people are interested. If you create these kind of things, people want these kind of events.
KHOL: Have you expanded the number of films you’re screening or what are the ways that people who attended last year are going to see growth this year?
MOLLENKOF: Yeah, so we are doing a two-night format this year. So, the first night is a Friday night, Aug. 12, and that’s going to be at High Point Cider, which has been a fun community spot in Victor. And that will be a shorter probably 45-minute film reel with maybe three or four films in it. And then we’ll do Saturday night in Victor City Park, which will be like the longer two hour[s of] films. So, yeah, we’ll have definitely more films this year. The plan is to just keep growing every year, a little more.
KHOL: Right. Have you noticed increased interest from the industry? Did people hear about what happened last year? And are you getting cold calls now from filmmakers?
MOLLENKOF: Yeah, we have more films submitted this year than we did last year, which is great. And, you know, filmmakers are so great, like, no matter how, whether you’re like Sundance or you’re like a tiny little festival, every filmmaker we’ve reached out to about showing their film, they’re always so excited. So, that’s been so appreciative.
KHOL: That’s great. I know you also have a benefitting nonprofit relationship this year. Talk a little bit about who you’re partnering with.
MOLLENKOF: Yeah, so every year, one of our big goals was to try to sort of have the festival benefit a nonprofit. And so, this year we have picked the Teton Valley Foundation, who puts on Music on Main in Victor. They’ve been sort of leading the charge in terms of arts and entertainment in Teton Valley and in the Tetons. So, we felt like we just sort of wanted to tip our hat a little bit and a big portion of the raffle proceeds will go to them.
KHOL: So, people that contribute to that can know that some of their dollars are going to help that foundation. That’s great. I know you mentioned to me off-mic that there are going to be some special guests this year, and tell us, are there any celebrity gets that you want to tease today to get people excited about this?
MOLLENKOF: Yeah, we’re still sort of in process with a couple of them. But right now, one that we’re excited to announce is a former fly fishing guide named Oliver White. He still guides some, but he also is sort of an investor guy. He’s an ambassador for Yeti and Howler Brothers and a bunch of different brands. He has a really fascinating story, started as a dirt bag, kind of fly fishing guide, and had a guide in his boat that said, ‘Come to New York City and work with me.’ I think he was a hedge fund manager. And he said, ‘I’ll teach you how to fish a different way.’
And so, Oliver went for a couple of years and was really successful but felt like he needed to be back in the mountains and on the river. So, anyway, long story short, came back and now has just has this guy’s backing and has done a lot of investing in lodges and things like that for really good reasons. And recently [he] bought the South Fork Lodge, which is right on the South Fork [of the Snake] River with Jimmy Kimmel. So, they’re actually kind of fixing it up right now and they have some pretty cool plans for it. So, Yeti made a film about his sort of life story that we’ll be showing and he’ll be there, which will be really fun.
KHOL: That’s a really good get. I always wonder when people start things like this if they’ve got it in their mind that celebrity investment is a really important part of growing the brand. I’m sure you think about that all the time.
MOLLENKOF: Yeah, absolutely. And he’s the most—even though he’s sort of become like a fly fishing celebrity—he’s the most down to earth guy. Super cool. He was so excited. He was like, ‘I’m bringing my whole family.’ It’ll be fun to have him there.
KHOL: Well, I can’t wait to see what happens this summer. Tell everyone where they can find information about Wydaho.
MOLLENKOF: WydahoFilmFest.com. We have tickets there. Tickets are on sale now, and it is Aug. 12 through Aug. 13, Friday and Saturday night in Victor, Idaho.
KHOL: Good to talk to you again, Phil. Good luck this year.
MOLLENKOF: Thanks so much. Appreciate it.