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Ashland IFF 2014: You Should Go…

I have watched a lot of college hockey through the years.  A lot. 

Most seasons of the last two decades, I have seen over 40 games in person each year.  I once saw over 60. 

One season, I saw U. Denver play live six times.  I should point out that I live thousands of miles from Denver, in Boston, and Denver never played my favorite team that year.  I saw my least favorite team play a (baker’s) dozen that same season, which is probably more than most of their fan base did. 

For over ten years, I have written a well-anticipated late-season hockey blog that explains the breakdowns of who has or has not clinched seeds for, or been eliminated from, the playoffs on a game-by-game basis as the season winds down.  Come national tournament time, when the country has been broken into four Regionals whose winners advance to the final Frozen Four, I have - multiple times - driven between two regionals in different states in order to catch more games. 

As I said, I have watched a lot.


What does that have to do with a film festival blog?


Well, for 15 straight years, I traveled all over the country to end the season by watching the Frozen Four in person – dating back to before it was even called the Frozen Four.  In that period, the event became popular enough that the NCAA had to create a lottery system to distribute tickets and fans with loyalty like mine were granted priority – a priority that grew with each year attended.  I had earned my way into special privilege at a coveted event.

During that time, I also started covering film festivals for various outlets, including here on this site.  The Ashland Independent Film Festival was recommended to me, but it always fell on the same week as the Frozen Four, so I had to pass.

In 2010, the calendar did me the favor of separating the two events.  I figured that I could watch the Regionals locally, fly out to cover AIFF and try it out, and then watch the Frozen Four – even if it was only on TV.


I have never been back to the Frozen Four. 


In fact, I really don’t even watch the games on my DVR once I get home from Ashland, since the result always leaks its way to me despite my best efforts at “radio silence” about the games. Surprisingly, I find that I don’t really care.  I don't miss it at all.


That’s because AIFF is better. 


It’s more fun. 

The acquaintances that I made through the years at hockey event after hockey event were always welcome encounters.  In Ashland, it feels like I’m reuniting with friends, the list of which grows each year.  Going to the Frozen Four often meant exploring a new city.  Going to Ashland is like coming back to my home town, except I only live there one week a year.  Last year, I even made my “home town” Ashland paper, after being interviewed as if I were a local.  The reporter didn’t know I was from across the country until the end of the interview.  I guess that means I can pass as a resident after only a few festivals.


Which brings me to my sad state of affairs today.

This year, I was scheduled to speak at a conference the week of AIFF, and then end the week with a multinational tele-meeting on Friday.  I have been trying to find a way to wiggle things around, but it’s just not going to happen.  I find myself wistfully looking through travel websites looking for spontaneously-reduced last-minute cross-country airfares that make a two-day transcontinental trip anything but financially irresponsible – or the rationalization that will make me not care.  Maybe something from Yellow Submarine’s Sea of Holes, or Doctor Who’s TARDIS, will magically appear to transport me away?


So I have to resign myself to one simple fact: I can’t go to AIFF 2014.


I don’t get to see my friends in my adopted home town, or get to make new ones.  I don’t get to find Director of Programming Joanne Feinberg and ask her about the films.  I don’t get to chat up the loyal staff and volunteers that - year-in, year-out - manage the queues in front of, or beside, the Varsity Theater; that manage the large crowds at the Armory; that work the concessions; that sell the tickets and the merchandise; that intro the screenings.  My friend Leslie is apparently moving up the volunteer ranks and is a MOD this year. I won't get to congratulate her on that in person.  I don’t get to see the same faces in the audience from one showing to the next and talk about what we’ve seen so far and what to see next.  Friendly faces all.

I won’t get to make use of all the tips I’ve picked up about what to do with the schedule.  Things like: Buy tickets for the award-winner showings on Monday right off the bat.  Whatever they are, you’ll want to see them.  If there’s anything you like in theaters 4 and 5, buy those early as those are the smallest rooms and will sell out first.  Things at the Armory usually show once, but things at the Varsity mostly have multiple screenings.  Use that flexibility to arrange the best schedule you can.  If what you want to see is sold out, plan ahead and get into the Rush line.  It’s well managed, and some number of seats usually open up for each show.  The films are in blocks, so plan to get out of the theater for a break.

I won’t get to take a walk in nearby Lithia Park or stroll up to a storefront coffee shop with a walk-up service window.  I won’t get to check out the Oregon Shakespeare Festival schedule to peruse this year’s creations.  I won't get to hear the soothing sounds of the river flowing under the bridge as I walk up to the town plaza on my way to the Varsity.

I won’t be going to the Opening Night party and sampling the wares of the local vendors: Wine and bread. Chocolate and fruit. Jams and marshmallows. Cheese, beer, and cheese made with some of the same beer.  Elk jerky.  Live music and camaraderie.  (What’s better than some Rogue Creamery Caveman Blue in one hand with some Rogue ale in the other – while talking about the week of films to come)?

I won’t be going to the Awards banquet either.  Great food from local restaurateurs.  Great company from all those who have taken part in the festival – organized, made, and/or watched - and are celebrating the shared experience. 

In between those bookends, I’ll have to skip checking the sponsor schedule to see which venue is hosting which “AfterLounge” that night as a focal point for the festival community to gather.  So, this year, you won’t find me walking into the Black Sheep Pub to buy a single malt for – or get one from – any of the filmmakers, nor find me in Thai Pepper for some great tapas-sized snacks, nor will I be at Standing Stone Brewing Company grabbing a burger or some pizza to go along with the in-house beer.

I don’t get to see the special events throughout the week.  I’ve gotten used to discussions with each year’s invited career-achievement Award winners, like Lucy Walker, Ondi Timoner, Julie Taymor, and Harry Shearer.  I won’t be chatting (for the third time this week) in the buffet queue with this year’s Rogue Award recipient, Ty Burrell, as happened for me with Morgan Spurlock when he won a few years ago.  I won't share the unique blend of talk, music, and film at the event celebrating the work of Barbara Kopple.

I won’t bump into all of the returning filmmakers – because that’s what happens at AIFF.  People return.  If they don’t have a new film this year, maybe they’ll be a juror.  Or maybe they’re back to support another friend’s film.  But they come back. Hey - renowned cinematographer Gerald Hirschfeld keeps showing up to personally hand out each year's Cinematography award (that AIFF named after him) simply because he likes coming back.

But most of all, I also don’t get to see the new things this year.  The new films.  The new filmmakers.  I won’t see the Oscar shorts.  I won’t see the Locals showcase.  I won’t see any of the panels.  I won’t see the inventive new features.  I won’t see any documentaries that move me to tears, render me speechless, or change my outlook on life.

And I still won’t get to see Ty Burrell.  Really?  He’s outstanding (Emmy-winning, actually) on the hilarious Modern Family and is the voice of Mr. Peabody – a brilliant, talking dog?  But I’ll be in Boston instead of at the Armory – which apparently has new seats and added popcorn this year?  I mean… come on! 




After work tonight, I found myself going to one of my favorite local independent film houses to find something that was playing its final night of a run.  I wore my AIFF hat, and it was a good movie, but it wasn’t the same.  So, as I sat there by myself in the theater, I started to write this piece in my head.

I already miss experiencing AIFF 2014, and it isn’t in the past.  It’s in the near future.  It’s right now (April 3-7).

I can’t go to one of my favorite events of the year and do all of these things, and it makes me sad.  But maybe you can – and it will make you happy.  Trust me.

If you can get to Ashland, Oregon any time over the next few days, do it.  You can do any of the things that I can’t there this year.  Just because I’m missing out doesn’t mean you have to.

In fact, you should go.

You can ask Joanne about the movies.  You can find Leslie - she'll be wearing a red scarf and helping make your audience experience run more smoothly - and tell her I said "Hi".  You can see local boy Ty Burrell and hear Barbara Kopple.  You can buy a thirsty filmmaker a round, make another new friend, and get your own personal Q&A.  You can post a response here to let us know how the new seats at the Armory worked out.  You can see great movies and meet nice people and have a lot of fun.

Then you’ll come back...

… and I’ll see you next year.

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