At the the Ashland Independent Film Festival awards ceremony on April 12 at the Historic Ashland Armory, AIFF Director of Programming Joanne Feinberg said her goodbyes to two standing ovations and a surprise staff-produced tribute film. During the five-day event, many filmmakers mentioned that Feinberg’s involvement was one reason they brought their films to the AIFF. I met Feinberg for coffee at Mix on the Plaza in Ashland. This is the first of a two-part interview. The next column will be published on May 14.
EH: How did you first get interested in film?
JF: When I was 9, I went to a small private alternative school. I had a teacher who was a photographer. He gave me a camera and built a darkroom in the school. I just fell in love with taking pictures, developing the film and printing the images; I learned that whole process. I decided I was going to become a photojournalist and travel the world. In my senior year of high school video came in. I got a little taste of what that was like, and how you could tell stories with interviews and moving images.
I graduated from New York University with a double major in Cinema Studies and Film Production. Cinema Studies is a lot like studying English Literature. You watch films and write about them analytically in depth.
When I got out of school, I worked for a number of years as a freelance editor in New York and San Francisco. I did a lot of commercials and corporate videos, and then I worked on documentaries.
EH: Then you left editing?
JF: Editing was very long hours and stressful. I loved it, but it was time for a break. I had my son. And then I had my twins. When the twins were 5, the AIFF was in its second year. I attended the festival, got on the board and then started working as a programmer. Nothing was structured at that point; we were making it up as we went. I’d had experience on juries at other film festivals in the Bay Area and had a sense of what programming was.
In 2003, it was an all-volunteer organization. We had 200-plus entries. This year we had 1,200. It’s been exciting to watch the development in so many ways: the reputation, the way the festival is organized, and all of the systems we have in place. It’s an extremely professional well-run machine.
EH: How many people attend the Ashland Independent Film Festival?
JF: There are between seven and eight thousand attendees, mostly from this area. There are about 18,000 tickets distributed. We are increasing our out-of-town audience incrementally, but there’s such an enormous base of fans in the Ashland area. The film makers love that there’s such a passionate audience that lives here and supports it.
A lot of my position the whole time has been out in the world in the industry, developing that side of the festival’s reputation. Even though we get a lot of unsolicited submissions, my job has been to be in touch with filmmakers, developing relationships with other festivals, seeing films and bringing them to Ashland, so that we get the best films possible. It’s a lot about screening and building relationships.
In 2005, I would see amazing films, but no one knew of the Ashland Independent Film Festival. It was really hard to get those films here. Now filmmakers want to bring their films to Ashland because of the audiences, the programming and the way they are treated. The hospitality is so outstanding. They just love it.