Ashland Independent Film Festival also plans curated film events at downtown office to raise funds for daily operations
By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news
Ashland Independent Film Festival has announced the nonprofit organization plans to return to showing films on the big screen this spring after going nearly entirely online during the pandemic. AIFF will present a “film showcase of curated current independent cinema” — a festival but a “mini-festival,” according to organizers.
Coming Attractions, which operates the Varsity Theatre in Ashland, will again host the festival in mid-April for the first time in-person since 2020. This year’s mini-festival will be a collaboration between AIFF Board President Kirkaldy Myers and Ashland film enthusiast Lorraine Vail.
Although the festival will be scaled back in comparison to pre-COVID-19 festivals, Myers and Vail, both residents of Ashland, are partnering on efforts to bring in-person independent films in conjunction with a hybrid format online.
“It looks as if we’re going to join forces,” Myers told Ashland.news Sunday evening. “It’s something to show that we’re still here.”
Myers and Vail met Saturday to talk about their plans to work together. The dates for in-person screenings at the theater are April 14, 18 and 22. Online screenings will be available on April 15, 16, 17, 19, 20 and 21. Question and answer sessions are planned, with films and times to be determined.
In addition to a scaled-back film festival, AIFF will host a series of what Myers calls smaller “curated events” in the screening room at the Film Center, AIFF’s downtown office at 389 E. Main St., in April, May, and June. Myers hopes the events raise enough funding to revamp the festival in 2024.
“It’s going to be awesome, that’s all I can say,” Myers said.
Myers said the film screenings at the Varsity will likely be ticketed but prices have yet to be determined.
Vail, along with being a film enthusiast, is teaching a film class called “Movies that Make us Think!” at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Southern Oregon University. She’s been working with Coming Attractions Theatres since early December on a plan to host films for a festival that, at first, was not affiliated with AIFF.
“There are a lot of people that are hopeful that something is going to get underway,” Vail said.
Vail, with assistance from former AIFF executive and artistic director Richard Herskowitz, curated three films to be shown at the Varsity. She’s also worked with film enthusiast Dave Ferguson and filmmaker Kathy Roselli.
“We’ve put together a group of films to be a mini, kind of spring festival,” Vail said. “I wanted to create a festival because we’ve done it for the last eight years and that’s how it started.”
The festival is also hybrid, which is what AIFF wanted to do last year, Vail said, but COVID intervened.
“So they pulled back and went online only, which was a big disappointment to them at the time,” Vail said. “But they had no choice at the time, either.”
She started the effort because she was uncertain if a festival or related event would happen, and she wanted to bring people back to the theater.
“This was me, trying to put together content for my OLLI course as a volunteer instructor,” she said, noting that her efforts aren’t based out of OLLI or Southern Oregon University.
OLLI members will meet for four discussion sessions from 3 to 5 p.m. on April 17, 21, 24 and 28. Local filmmakers will join the group and show their work. This is a hybrid course and class members can join in the discussion via Zoom or in-person at the Campbell Center.
Since the duo have met together to collaborate, the festival will be held under the official AIFF banner.
Myers expressed excitement about joining Vail in her efforts and partnering up.
“It shows that there are people in the community that still care,” he said. “There are people that are invested in the film festival actually happening, and I’m excited about the possibilities of what the festival will generate going forward.
“I feel that we’ll be able to have somewhat of a Cinderella story, meaning that, just in terms of the blow that was dealt in terms of COVID and the festival being in danger of sunsetting, but now there’s a distinct possibility of the festival coming back and I’m super grateful that there are people like Lorraine that care about what the festival means to this valley and this community, and she is as invested as I am.”
Myers also shared excitement about ramping up for a more robust festival in 2024, with hopes to start accepting submissions this summer.
“Hopefully by then we’ll have staff in place to be able to run the offices,” Myers said. “Right now we’re just going after essential funding to make sure that we can do this right.”
Myers anticipates more will be known about the films planned for the festival in March. AIFF will market the events via social media.
“The website is also going to go through a revamping because it looks a little dated and I feel that the AIFF website needs a fresh coat of paint,” Myers said.
Tumultuous few years at AIFF
Myers described the last couple years where the festival navigated tumultuous times following COVID-19, during which the festival went virtual.
“There was a disruption in the way that AIFF could earn its income,” Myers told Ashland.news in an interview on Jan. 24.
“That caused our revenue stream to plummet, but I don’t want anyone to lose hope,” he said. “We are coming back. We just need the community support, because we know that this festival is beloved.”
Myers wants to use this year’s events to ramp up to an even more robust festival in 2024. He is also coordinating smaller, curated events at the AIFF Film Center — the 2,900-square-foot office on Main Street — where attendees can learn more about the vision for a revamped festival planned for 2024. He hopes to raise $120,000 through the events.
Myers has served as president of the AIFF board since 2021, following a tumultuous turnover of previous board members. He declined to comment on the details that led to the turnover.
Myers anticipates that, as the festival recoups funds through fundraising efforts, he and board members will hire staff and add several members to the board of directors.
“The turnover started right around the time that I became board president,” Myers said.
“AIFF is still standing,” he added. “We have no staff at the moment, but we are in the process of bringing a staff back.”
Myers said that revenues were depleted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which made it impossible to remain staffed. He’s hopeful that will change this year.
“The festival has gone through some challenges, which is why we haven’t been able to meet in person for a while, “ Myers said. “Festivals are in the business of selling tickets and, in addition, being able to meet in person, which we haven’t had the opportunity to do for the past couple of years now, when COVID happened.”
AIFF plans to bring on several new board members who Myers said are very interested in the vision of AIFF as also a place of “equity, diversity, and inclusion.” Andy Neal has already been added to the board. Sidney Cooper serves as vice president and treasurer.
“And also a festival that’s green, celebrates all cultures,” Myers added.
The number of staff members Myers wants to bring on board is yet to be determined.
For those wondering what took so long to hear an announcement about the 2023 festival, Myers had an answer.
“COVID happened, there were some administrative shifts, and currently there isn’t any staff,” he said. “We’re probably about to bring back some volunteers on board and we just wanted to make sure that the language was right. We didn’t want to mislead anyone in any way. So, that’s why it took this long for us to be able to bring information to the community that was as accurate as possible because AIFF wants to lead with integrity.”
A donor who wished to remain anonymous has donated $35,000 to AIFF, Myers said, noting his gratitude for the gift.
“We’re still actively looking for funders to be able to keep the Film Center going … for different curated events and for that to be AIFF’s office, and that would bring us into August,” he said. “Hopefully, by then we will have a grant writer in place to go after other funding and may ramp up to actually come back where we have submissions once more and programming.”
Those wishing to learn more about AIFF or about how to volunteer this spring can reach out to AIFF by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 541-488-3823. More information is available on the AIFF website at ashlandfilm.org.
Reach Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at email@example.com.
Feb. 1 update: Spelling of Sidney Cooper’s name corrected.