Ashland Runs on Volunteers: Volunteers passionate about films make Ashland film festival possible

Have you ever dreamed of being a movie star? So did I, but it’s not going to happen. But you could be close to the work and thrills of movie-making by volunteering with the Ashland Independent Film Festival (AIFF). This organization is best known for its annual spring film festival, happening from April 7-11 this coming year. It also organizes and sponsors a number of other events, such as the Varsity World Film week earlier this month. It couldn’t do its work without volunteers, hundreds of them, both during the film festival and year-round.

What kinds of things do volunteers do? Some of this you will already know about if you have attended any of the film festival shows. Volunteers answer the phones, sell tickets, manage the sidewalk crowds before performances and serve as ushers and house managers. They also do necessary but less visible tasks: serving as cinema crew at the Historic Ashland Armory and other venues; tallying the votes of the filmgoers; providing transportation for film makers and others who come to town for the festival and introducing them when they speak after a showing; and doing photography at events.

Volunteers are also needed outside and “around” the festival time — at the awards celebration and/or the opening night bash, and the Oscar Night gala to set up and to serve food and drinks. There are also tasks that need to be done throughout the year, at the offices, involving office work, graphic design or grant-writing.

What do volunteers get from volunteering? There are some “formal” awards: an invitation to a thank-you party, a very cool T-shirt and vouchers for attending films. Volunteers are expected to give at least 12 hours, though many do much more; the number of vouchers increases with significant increases in volunteer time.

Besides the perks, volunteers come and come back again because of the camaraderie among volunteers and staff and the occasional opportunity to get a backstage (or back screen?) view of filmmaking and filmmakers.

Let me tell you a bit about two stalwart and long-term volunteers. Cindy Bernard has been volunteering since 2003, the third annual festival. One might call her the “dough” queen for the festival. First, she handles all the cash for the festival and other events such as Oscar Night. She is there early to collect cash and late to count and secure it. For three years she also became the year-round bookkeeper. She also provides another kind of dough; she is the co-owner of Rogue Valley Roasting Co. and each year she bakes cookies, bread and pastries for sale at the events in the Armory.

Venita Varga has also been volunteering since 2003 (and attending since the inaugural year of the Festival. She began as an usher captain; then took on roles as a film host, and later a house manager. She also volunteers as a screener, helping the staff choose the films to show from the large number of submissions. She is passionate about independent film, especially French film. Some of you may know her from her courses on classic French film at OLLI.

AIFF recognizes its need for a large number of volunteers, doing a wide range of tasks, some requiring special skills, but many just requiring willing hands (and feet, for those jobs for which you need to stand for four hours at a film venue!). I’ve given you some sense of the range of tasks, but you can find all this information and more, very well organized, on its web site. Go to and click on the volunteer tab near the top of the page; this will bring you to the 2016 volunteer form, which tells you about the interests, skills and talents that might be relevant to certain jobs, lists the volunteer areas (divided into about 17 categories and, for each, the duties, the particular requirements, and the shifts that are needed before, during and/or after the festival. (Note that some positions have minimum age requirements; if you are under 18 you will need to provide a parental consent form.)

What do you need to do to volunteer? If you are a new volunteer, fill out the form from the website (or, if you are more of a paper-and-pencil person, you can get a form, and find out more, by emailing (,), calling 541-488-3823, or stopping by their offices on 325 A St. Submitting the form doesn’t obligate you, but does put you on the email list to hear about what’s happening, including, importantly, the New Volunteers Orientation on Jan. 12, 2016.

Mary I. Coombs’ column on local nonprofit organizations appears every three weeks. Email questions and suggestions to


Share This Story