Local film enthusiasts knew it. Filmmakers knew it. Now, it seems, everyone does.

The Ashland Independent Film Festival's 15th year has drawn a record number of submissions, up 170 over 2015 for a total of 1,233 than filmmakers hope will be chosen for the 2016 festival April 7-11.

Now the AIFF's staff, led by director of programming Richard Herskowitz, have the daunting task of screening them all and choosing just 90 to 100 films to present to festival attendees.

The AIFF has long been a part of Ashland's rich cultural tapestry, but in its early years was something of an upstart. Not anymore.

Ashland's festival has built a reputation for attracting intelligent audiences who help discover outstanding independent films, and filmmakers want their work shown here. Five of the 15 documentaries shown at last year's festival or Varsity World Film Week made the Academy Awards short list.

Not only is Ashland known for being a great town to see movies in, the AIFF has become a great festival for moviemakers to attend in person, meeting and interacting with audiences.

The National Endowment for the Arts awarded the festival a $10,000 grant to support audience participation, AIFF was named one of the “Top 25 Coolest Festivals in the World” by MovieMaker Magazine, and Ashland topped the magazine's list of  “Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker in 2015, Top Towns.”

As Herskowitz said, "The Ashland Independent Film Festival is no longer a hidden gem."