Like a (benevolent) tornado passing through town, the Ashland Independent Film Festival (AIFF) has come and gone. But a film enthusiast’s work is never done. For this issue’s Public Profile, we sat down with AIFF Executive Director Cathy Dombi to talk about the inner workings of the festival and its benefits to the community.
Rogue Valley Messenger: What has set this year apart from previous festivals?
Cathy Dombi: We have more themes in the festival this year. We have a strong focus on women filmmakers and films that feature themes around LGBTQ documentaries or features.
RVM: Can you tell me about the preparation you do leading into a festival? How are films chosen to screen?
CD: We start accepting submissions from filmmakers in September. This year we had over 1300 film submissions, last year it was about 1200 and the year before that it was 900. We round up 25 volunteers who are screeners and we also have a computer program that tracks all of our incoming films and reviews. Our screeners will watch the films, write reviews, and decide if it should advance or not. Every film gets watched at least twice and sometimes three or four times.
Often there is a pool of films that gets watched over and over again. We have so many great films that we have to make some hard decisions as to what will make the festival and what won’t. You want a variety and something that appeals to all segments of your audience. Sometimes there are films that were worthy of being in the festival, but perhaps are too similar to what we already have. Maybe we have several films of that same genre.
RVM: What can you tell me about the financial boost the festival gives the community?
CD: Ashland is the home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and they start their season in February, but it’s a slow building to the tourist season. So we really come in at a time when it’s just before the tourists are here in full force. Also, we’re not just bringing in people from far away. We are also gathering our Southern Oregon community to come experience and enjoy downtown Ashland.
This year we sold over 19,000 tickets. Over the past few years we’ve been growing by about a 1000 a year. That’s one of the reasons why in 2013 we started screening films at Ashland St. Cinemas and this year we are using the theatre in Science Works. So we are always expanding because of the demand.
RVM: Sounds like you’ve been busy. Have you gotten the chance to see any films?
CD: One of the perks of working on the staff here is that I get to see a lot of the films prior to screening. I wait until the films are selected and then I get to watch them. I haven’t gotten through every single one because we have about 150 this year and I have to sleep sometimes. I really enjoy watching them with everyone in the theatre and discussing it with the fans. That’s the entire festival experience.
Published April 14, 2016. The Rogue Valley Messenger.