With the help of a few drinks, the minds behind Denton’s only documentary festival take us behind the scenes
In front of us sits a photographer, a documentarian, and a seasoned festival booker. In front of them sits various beers and wines from across the world.
It’s not often you can convince such different artists to sit down for a drink and talk shop, but this is not your typical group of artists.
We’re at Bearded Monk, a local growler shop, sharing three rounds with the minds behind Thin Line Fest: festival director Joshua Butler, music director Dallas Guill and photography director Ed Steele. The topic of discussion is the past, present and future of the festival, a can’t-miss event for art lovers of all kinds, and the drinks are as diverse and colorful as a day of Thin Line programming.
Each round of questions presented a new opportunity to learn about this multifaceted festival experience, and each round of drinks told us more about the men who make it happen.
Josh: Lone Pint Brewery’s Yellow Rose: Crisp, malty IPA
Dallas: Malbec: Red wine with a plump, fruity taste
Ed: Peticolas Brewing Company’s Prime Minister: Deceptively strong amber beer
Interviewer: Describe the work of the person to your right.
Dallas: Ed is responsible for creating the whole atmosphere and everything that goes in to the photo gallery. He handles it from the beginning, when submissions come in, all the way up to set-up. Every aspect is handled by him, which turns out really well because last year’s gallery looked really neat.
Ed: Well, thank you. Josh is essentially the Kwisatz Haderach of Thin Line. He’s the universe’s super being. Josh had a dream for film ten years ago. He wanted to enable filmmakers to share their craft and their talent with the world. Based on that dream, he’s leveraged his money and his time to create this experience. (Thin Line) happens because of this guy. It was his dream originally, and it keeps growing and getting bigger and bigger.
Josh: Dallas is just an all-around good guy. I’m not sure if there’s a nonprofit arts thing in town that he’s not somehow associated with. He gives wholly of his time and his energy, and anyone that knows him knows that it comes with 100 percent of his heart as well. Dallas also wants to bring everyone together, and Thin Line has grown by doing just that. He’s been picking music for festivals for a long time, and now he’s responsible for picking ours, which is no small matter.
Interviewer: How would you explain Thin Line to someone outside of Denton?
Ed: It’s really an experience unlike anything you’d see anywhere else. You’ve got documentary films that you won’t see anywhere else. You have the micro-experience where professional haunters in zombie make-up sat in the movie theatre with guests and watched the film with us. So you’re sitting in a movie theatre watching a fake documentary about zombies and there’s a zombie sitting right next to you. How much more meta does it get than that?
Dallas: I would tell people that Thin Line is a five-day long, non-profit film festival with music, film, and photography components that showcases across DFW and the world since we host music, photo, and film from all over the place.
Josh: I would say that Thin Line is a multi-dimensional festival experience. We’re trying to create that kind of well-rounded festival experience.
Dallas: I think the word “experience” is really important because that is such a large focus of it. It’s not just “come out to some fest grounds and fool around and leave,” because for five days you’ve got films to watch, music to watch, photography to go admire. There’s programming in between all of that. There’s constantly always something to do.
Josh: Prairie Artisan Ales’ Prairie Weiss: Lightly sour beer from the wind-swept fields of Oklahoma
Dallas: Cannonball Merlot: Dark red wine with a hint of chocolate
Ed: Martin House Brewing’s Thunderhorse: Pretzel stout with red wine barrel twist
Interviewer: What makes the Denton art scene different from the Dallas or Austin art scene?
Ed: Denton attracts a specific musical energy. It’s not easy to explain. You go to Austin, Deep Ellum or different places, and you get it. But there’s an energy here. It’s everywhere. It’s built into the fabric of everything that is Denton.
Josh: I’m from Houston and I had never heard of Denton. I hadn’t even heard of UNT. I wanted to go to a film school; I thought I was going to go to Austin. And within a 12-hour period, I had someone from my University of Houston life and someone from my theatre life both say to me, “You should go to UNT in Denton.” I took that as a sign. I think people are attracted to Denton for various reasons and a lot of times when they get here; they realize that it is a pretty special place. It’s hard to leave that.
Dallas: My first visit to UNT was in high school. I was like, “Wow, this is a really nice university.” I ended up spending part of that day just talking to people in the different departments I was interested in at the time. I came with a purely academic mindset. That being said, it’s the arts that have kept me here. This is my home because there are so many amazing things happening here all the time. As someone that considers himself a promoter of the arts, this is the place to be.
Josh: There’s a lot of depth within the festival’s film, music, and photography programs. Taken as a whole, it’s quite an unique experience.
Interviewer: What do you hope the shift from for-profit to free accomplishes for the festival?
Dallas: To bring in as many people as possible, to have the most potential for engagement, we wanted to eliminate the biggest barrier of entry, which is the cost to get in. This allows us to showcase what we’re doing to a wider audience.
Josh: Ed came in and does a great thing with the photography festival and we all learned from that. We have evolved every single year. There hasn’t been a single year that was the same as the year prior. We do it, we learn and we adjust. That’s what’s so great about bringing in a diverse group of people. We do that every single time. And the free thing has absolutely come out of that. The only downside is that it costs us more money to produce.
Ed: What if there’s this band playing that I really want to catch and there’s this documentary that I really want to see and I might swing by the photography exhibit and check it out and it’s not going to cost me anything? How cool is that? Then there’s no barrier. I think it’s pretty awesome.
Dallas: Maybe there’s this young person out there who couldn’t afford to get into this festival before and now they have access. Who knows what they have the potential to do one day. They could be the next great filmmaker. This could be the event that inspires them to take that next step. It’s a win-win.
Interviewer: What do you hope Thin Line does for the community of Denton both this year and in the future?
Ed: I hope that it pushes someone to the point where they were just about to give up on their art and they see something that inspires them to say, “I can do better than that. I can do more with what I create.” I hope it pushes the next musician, the next filmmaker, the next photographer to strive harder. I hope it inspires the next round, the next generation, and the next iteration of people to create art in their own medium that pushes the boundary. That’s what the Thin Line is.
Josh: I want people to question what is real. With these media messages that we are bombarded with everyday, I want there to be more critical thinking, more questioning of what’s behind this source. Why are they communicating these things to me? More critical thinking, and more awareness of what is real and what isn’t. Thin Line is a commentary on so many things. Every year it’s a new bag, we never know what we’re going to get. It’s exciting.
Dallas: I hope the next great film festival comes because someone was inspired by us.
Josh: That’s a great point. Art begets art.
Josh: Yellow Rose: Crisp, malty IPA
Dallas: Martin House Brewing’s Sea Witch: Black gose aged in bourbon barrels ‘til it’s black as a sea witch’s heart
Ed: Sea Witch: Black gose aged in bourbon barrels ‘til it’s black as a sea witch’s heart
Interviewer: What do you look for when you bring an artist or film to Thin Line?
Dallas: We try to leverage our local connections, and with music there is a lot of that. We’ve had a lot of people start here and go on to do great things, whether as an artist, producer or anything in the music industry. We even know agents out there that got their start here. So we all look to who we know and make really cool things happen.
Josh: And as we gain respect as a festival, we’re able to leverage the multidimensional aspect, too. Crossover is always the goal.
Ed: We’re always trying to bridge the three components of the festival.
Interviewer: So in 10 years, what do you hope Thin Line looks like?
Josh: We’re really on a 25-years-total-world-domination plan.
Dallas: (laughs) All the festivals merge and become one.
Josh: (jokes back) One superfest. Dentopia.
Ed: There is a lot you can accomplish with money and with 10 years of hard work and talent by experienced people, dedicated to their own specific areas of interest.
Josh: Absolutely, everything up until this point has been absolutely organic. Just natural growth coming from hard work and perseverance. Thin Line is a community festival. We’re in it to have a good time, to promote local art, to bring art to this community, and that’s it. I can’t help but think that after 25 years, we’ll get to a point where we have respect outside of this community. I think we are well on our way.
Ed: Thin Line has always found a way to include local and national talent and maintain integrity. That’s not to say that the other festivals don’t have integrity. There is just something about Thin Line. Like Josh said, we’re all in it for our own particular passions, not for the love of money, not for the love of becoming the next SXSW, the next ACL, or the next what have you. We’re in it for Thin Line.
Interviewer: Final question. Complete this sentence with one word: “I hope the 2017 festival is….”
Ed: Controversial. And I hope the 2017 festival redefines — from both the festival and attendee’s perspectives — what is possible for a festival to be.
Dallas: If I had to sum it up in one word: memorable. I think that’s the way I go into it every single year. We create something that is a real, lasting impression in the audiences’ minds. I think it’s extremely important that we keep reinventing ourselves, so that we never become predictable. That’s what I feel like we’ve done and will continue to do going forward.
Josh: We have some really big changes this year. The free festival is a big deal. The move to April is a big deal because it means we’re going to move more to the outdoors and create a bigger downtown Denton experience.
Feature photo courtesy of Ed Steele Photography