Ashland Independent Film Festival looks for screeners

Karen Jeffery, a grandmother of five, is back at school this fall, studying communication at Southern Oregon University. She has a full plate, but she's not letting it keep her from indulging in a few pleasures that are part of the 2010 Ashland Independent Film Festival.

"I've always loved film," she said. "I love volunteering, I love Ashland. So why not?"

Jeffery was among some 80 area residents at the AIFF's fall volunteer meeting, held Wednesday at the Historic Ashland Armory. The meeting is held each year in the fall to shore up community support in advance of the spring festival.

AIFF staff had a chance to meet with residents throughout the evening, many of whom had already signed volunteer forms to participate.

The 2010 festival, running April 8 to 12, will be Jeffery's first year volunteering in Ashland. But she's no rookie. A former Hawaii resident, she worked for years at the Maui Film Festival. Adding the duties of AIFF volunteer to her plate, she said, was an opportunity she couldn't turn down.

"Ashland is all about the arts," Jeffery said. "There are opportunities in film, there's the theater, dance, painting. It's got so much culture."

AIFF Executive Director Tom Olbrich told attendees the number of volunteers had gone up slightly, compared with years past. In addition to the 80 in attendance, more than 200 others had already committed to put in time — bringing the grand total of workers to around 300, he said.

"It's amazing to be able to say we'll have 300 volunteers," Olbrich said. "It hasn't always been that way."

The festival has come far since premiering in 2001.

Its run has been infused with appearances from celebrity talents, such as actress Helen Hunt and animator Bill Plympton. Earlier this year, national film journal MovieMaker Magazine called the Ashland film festival one of "25 Festivals Worth the Fee."

Seated a few rows behind Jeffery, Chloe Landes was eager to get to work. The Ashland High School senior, young enough to be one of Jeffery's grandchildren, showed a similar passion for the arts, and for donating her time to make the festival as good as it can be.

"I'm hoping to do this for my senior project," Landes said, "hopefully something of a more technical aspect, helping to do setup and run crews." The AHS senior is an active member of the school's drama department, working behind the scenes to bring school plays to life.

Landes' experience with set design, and Jeffery's volunteering at past film festivals, will ensure plenty of work for each, as well as for the rest of the volunteer corps. But the honor of screening films — and selecting those that will air at the festival — is reserved for a select few.

"There are about 30 screeners, and we expect to have some 900 films," said Olbrich. "The screeners have been working with us for a while, and are selected carefully."

Filmmakers still have some time to submit their films. The regular entry postmark deadline is Nov. 13, but films can still be submitted through the beginning of December. For more information visit the AIFF Web site, at

Olbrich told Wednesday's attendees that the work they were putting in would prove key to the festival's success.

"Volunteers make up AIFF and are so key to people's experience when they attend," he said. "Our success is built on the organization of this festival. Volunteers are a key part in that." Olbrich emphasized to the crowd that the festival's history was something to be proud of.

Jeffery and Landes are just two of the new batch of AIFF volunteers. But they, too, will soon be part of its history.

Elon Glucklich is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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