ashland.news
July 18, 2024

Ashland Independent Film Festival Executive Director: ‘This is a whole new effort’

An audience applauds at a 2019 AIFF film screening. AIFF photo by Richard Jacquot
December 22, 2023

Jim Fredericks brings business acumen, film enthusiasm to help AIFF meet fundraising goal by Dec. 31; looks ahead to a productive 2024 to rebuild and reboot organization, festival

By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news

After recently launching a $150,000 fundraising campaign goal to help keep the film reels rolling for the Ashland Independent Film Festival, an Ashland nonprofit, new leadership said this week they are more than halfway — raising $88,000 and counting — toward reaching the goal.

With the funds, AIFF intends to:

  • Pay debts owed to creditors, including local small business owners.  
  • Fund the planning and execution of a 2024 festival including programming, logistics, the day-to-day business of running an independent film festival, and keeping the lights on.
  • Pay essential staff.

The nonprofit organization put out a news release recently describing plans to “reboot” itself in 2024, not mincing words after nearly dissolving due to multiple financial difficulties earlier this year. AIFF announced a new board of directors and Executive Director Jim Fredericks last month.

“We have raised over $88,000 in a little over a week,” Fredericks said in a news release. “The support so far is truly heartwarming. We still have a ways to go though to keep our doors open, and we need everyone’s help.”

A drive to reinvigorate an Ashland cultural keystone
New AIFF Executive Director Jim Fredericks talks about the nonprofit organization’s “reboot” in a video posted on social media.

The path to reaching the $150,000 goal includes launching a membership and sponsorship campaign in the new year if the momentum appears to be there via early support from individuals, according to the release.

“I have faith in this community. And we are determined to succeed,” said AIFF Board Chair Leigh Davenport, in the release.

The release said that by early 2023, “AIFF was left with no staff, no plan for the future, and debt.” 

“To be clear,” the release goes on to say,they’ve inherited an organization with no financial resources and owes money to creditors. That is the reality.”

The 2023 AIFF mini-festival held in April came together because of “a few brave souls. But it masked the reality: The festival’s outlook was terribly bleak.”

Prior to this year, the shutdown of the festival in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, much like other theaters and film festivals, dealt the festival hardship.

Refocusing the organization

“The biggest reason (for financial difficulty) was COVID,” Fredericks said. 

A virtual festival was held in 2020 during the pandemic, but Fredericks said that the virtual format is limited when it comes to providing a collective experience.

Fredericks said there have been festivals held in “some form” with “mixed success” in the last couple years.

“There’s only so much you can do with a virtual format,” he said. “That hit us hard and caused financial burden, financial challenges at the organization.”

Fredericks described the need to fund the festival through a number of mechanisms. 

“You do your basic fundraising by getting fundraising memberships,” Fredericks said. “You sell tickets to the actual festival. You invite sponsors and advertisers in, you get concession revenue. Three of those went away, so you’re not selling tickets, you don’t have any concessions, you don’t have anything to advertise.”

“We had at the same time a succession of leadership changes and board shifting and changes, which left the organization a little bit of a leadership gap and an inability to raise money and keep at it, so it just all sort of happened. It was like a domino effect.”

There were other factors, too, which the release refers to as “significant missteps organizationally,” and “a loss of focus,” according to the release.

“That came from a lack of continuous leadership and leadership continuity,” Fredericks said in an interview. “The lack of the ability to put on a festival left people bereft of funds to spend. There were some bad decisions made, there’s no question. I don’t think anyone would deny that. I don’t think anyone points any particular fingers at any particular individual. It’s more about collectively, this organization lost its focus. And we’re trying to find that focus.

“We are pretty laser-focused right now and our focus will also be on complete transparency with people, which I think is critical,” he added.

The new leadership team is tasked with “breathing new life” into AIFF, but also hope to attract interest from those who could help them raise the necessary funds by Dec. 31. 

Film lovers wear headphones to listen at an AIFF movie screening in the summer of 2021 at ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum. AIFF photo by Kurt DeWitt
Experienced business leader

Fredericks and the board plan to craft a business plan that “envisions a transitional 2024 festival as a building block for a sustainable future,” according to the release.  

AIFF anticipates they continue to connect to the virtual film community while bringing back filmmakers and film lovers to this wonderful place we call home.” 

Fredericks, who was a Fortune 500 business leader, comes to the role with a varied background, bringing a combination of working in the corporate business world as well as experience supporting the arts. Prior to living in the Rogue Valley, he worked for companies 

like Nike, Coors and RadioShack, but he’s long been a supporter of the arts as a donor and board member (A side note: He also speaks Russian and German, having served in the U.S. Air Force as a Russian linguist. That’s where he met his wife, who was also serving in the same role.)

He has lived in the Rogue Valley for 14 years and still serves as president of the Camelot Theatre Board of Directors. Fredericks also comes to AIFF  with experience working for Britt Music & Arts Festival in Jacksonville between 2011 and 2014. He described the time frame as one where he said the organization was “under some distress” and said he “helped turn them around and get them back on track.”

“My background in film is more as a film-lover than as a filmmaker or producer,” Fredericks told Ashland.news during an interview in his office Wednesday.

“They need someone who appreciates the arts, values what the film festival has to offer, supports the mission and values — but also understands how to run a P&L (profit and loss business),” he added.

“I saw the need and as an Ashland resident, wanted to make sure we could still continue to support the arts and have the kind of cultural environment we all want.”

Fredericks was approached by a fellow board member at Camelot Theatre about the organizational need for a new leader for AIFF at a time of “distress.”

“I could see that there were some really concerned people that really wanted to step up and make a difference, and I said, ‘Well, I can probably help with that’ and so we started talking and here we are,” Fredericks said.

Fredericks said there’re seven on the board now, some of whom are filmmakers, screenwriters, journalists, and those with a business background — and that there’s room for at least four more board members.

“We’re actively looking to recruit some more members that could help us grow and fundraise and reach out to the community,” Fredericks said.

“We’re just starting — basically, this is a whole new effort,” he added. “When you start from scratch, you take the people that step up. Fortunately, we have a pretty amazing group of people who have stepped up; a good combination of arts and experience.”

“It’s really a great start and they’re all people who are younger and energetic and really want to see this festival succeed, so it’s a good group to be part of right now,” he added.

A recent fundraiser was “The 12 Days of Christmas,” featuring $5 movie nights with many holiday favorites, including “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Elf.”

“We don’t want to be the film festival that’s just here one week a year,” Fredericks said.

“The reason why we’re in this space, in fact, is we want to be a more active part of the community, and we also want the film festival to be more inclusive of broader, diverse backgrounds and invite more people in that maybe haven’t connected with us in the past. 

“We also want to be part of downtown Ashland, so, you know, the series over the holidays, and say, ‘hey, we’re still here’ … but also provide a value to the community that you can enjoy and experience something.”

AIFF is partnering with ScienceWorks and is actively seeking partnerships with other organizations in the community.

“We’re talking to the high school, we’re talking to (Southern Oregon University), we’re talking to the (Historic Ashland) Armory and the Varsity (Theatre),” he said.

“We would love to have things at wineries, take advantage of all the bounty that Ashland has to offer,” Fredericks added.

“All kinds of venues are ways for people to experience the movies … It’s getting people out of their homes and (off) their couches and off their iPhones, and getting them out to collective 

movies experiences, and that can be anything from IMAX experience to sitting-in-your-lounge-chair-and-order-pizza experience … but also the old movie house kind of feel.

“It’s about getting people together to experience this art form and the way it was meant to be experienced,” he added.

Love of film and the collective experience

Supporting AIFF
To kick off this fund drive, emeritus board members will match the first $10,000 in gifts, AIFF announced. They will also host a private AIFF Winemaker Event featuring local winemakers and 2023 James Beard Best Chef nominee Josh Dorcak on Jan. 14, 2024.
To donate online, click here.

Gifts can also be mailed to AIFF, P.O. Box 218, Ashland OR 97520.

The Ashland Independent Film Festival Board of Directors
Leigh Davenport, Chair
Colin Bishopp
Nisha Burton
Matt Hoffman
Carina Kolodny
Andy Neal
Gary Kout

Fredericks’ mother would bring him to the movie theater in Livingston, New Jersey, where he grew up. It was there he saw “The Sound of Music” and “Mary Poppins,” and he was hooked on the excitement and color on the big screen.

“My wife always jokes that’s when I fell a little bit in love with Julie Andrews,” he said, “but who didn’t?”

“Filmmaking, film-watching touches just about everything you do,” he added. “Your eyes, your ears, your senses all around you and the collectiveness all around you, watching people around me.”

Gesturing to his iPhone, he said, “It’s not the same when you’re sitting there doing this.”

“That was something during COVID that people sorely missed,” Fredericks said — the collective experience of watching movies together at a theater in-person.

“With the film festival in particular and others like it, we connect people with films that we wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to see,” he added. “Independent movies … it really connects with the human experience at the very basic level. We’re not trying to get your big emotions necessarily, we’re trying to put all the little ones, the subtleties in between.

“Things that make you think … and that’s another thing that a film festival can do, provoke you 

into thinking about the world around you through the eyes of these filmmakers who are telling stories. Filmmaking is all about storytelling, and I think Ashland kind of is a storytelling town.”

He’s looking ahead to 2024 and is optimistic about the future of the festival.

“It’s going to be a very different film festival and I think that’s an opportunity to create something that’s even better,” he said.

“We’re getting good community response … they want the festival back and they’re voting with their dollars.”

Fredericks said the organization is in the beginning process of planning for the 2024 festival, “crossing our fingers that we can get there to make it happen.”

Ashland.news leases office space from the Ashland Independent Film Festival. Reach Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at hollyd@ashland.news.

A version of the AIFF logo in the shape of a heart appears on thank-yous for support.
Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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