Ashland wrapped up it’s 16th annual nationally ranked, independent film festival. The Ashland Independent Film Festival (AIFF) ran from Thursday, April 6 through Monday, April 10 at a variety of venues throughout the city.
This ever expanding film festival which was ranked in the top 25 “coolest film festivals in the world” by Movie Maker Magazine just last year runs on the support of around 400 volunteers and many passionate film makers. Wendy Connor, the Director of Operations and Senior Programmer, attributes a great deal of its success to the many volunteers. This AIFF veteran of ten years started out as a volunteer for the festival before becoming one of two full time, year round staff.
Connor insisted that putting together these five days of film is a year-long process that includes traveling to other festivals and screening the close to 900 submissions in order to select a mere 90 films to include. The climactic moment of the year, of course is the festival itself. Then, after the festival there will be a wrap and debrief, before the process begins all over again.
While the process is grueling, Connor has a number of reasons she has stayed with the festival so long.
“All year long you’re working and you’re tearing your hair out and it’s a lot of long hours, but to see all these people sitting in an audience appreciating the work and having these filmmakers come here and say this is awesome it just makes it all worthwhile.”
Connor communicates in depth with the many film makers. “ They know our reputation,” she said, “there are over 4000 film festivals in North America alone it’s rare that a film festival is quote unquote ‘in business’ as long as we are for 16 years. It’s because of the reputation of programming that we have. We pride ourselves in being a filmmaker’s film festival.”
One of the managers on duty, or MODs, for the Varsity theatre location Kathy Carter echoed this sentiment. “I think what I like most about being involved is that we are known as a festival for treating the filmmakers just incredibly well,” Carter said. “What filmmakers love about this film festival is that they get so much real interaction with people who really love film.”
Daniel Raim who directed the film Harold and Lillian: a Hollywood Love Story explained that “festivals are an amazing place for filmmakers and people in the industry to make new friends.” His producer, Nancy Kalish Beiderman, continued, “Every festival is really different. Ashland is very well programmed. Not every festival is as well programmed as Ashland is. I also think that the hospitality is really extraordinary, so those two things make a reallygood festival.”
“Organization is key and acknowledgement is key,” said Connor. “I’m a really big believer in appreciating our volunteers acknowledging them, making sure they’re productive when they’re on duty and feeling the love. That really makes a big difference.”