For the past month, Bruce Hostetler has been working full-time rigging digital cinema projectors (DCP) at five locations so that 110 films can be viewed by 19,000 fans without a hitch at the 15th annual Ashland Independent Film Festival starting Thursday and ending Monday. 

The days of “film” are long gone. Movies come in little hard drives, get plugged into their DCP (already a fixture at local theaters) and, with the help of massive computer servers, are projected on screens at the Varsity Theatre, Ashland Street Cinema, Historic Armory and ScienceWorks, says Hostetler, now in his fourth year as AIFF production manager.

“Everything is very organized. It has to be, but you can only organize 90 percent of what happens,” he says. “You have to be able to solve any problems very quickly and that’s the other 10 percent. We’re very good at handling anything unpredictable, so that chaos doesn't start.”

Hostetler’s is one of several crews getting the many venues tuned and on-track. AIFF on Monday took over the Armory, and put up the giant screen, with sound balancing and setup of 450 chairs on Tuesday. Not all moviemakers, scattered around the world, have to fly in; they’ve wired the Varsity for big-screen Skype Q&A sessions with audiences for some who can’t make it.

Crews by mid-week were setting up for a new twist, interaction with the film “He Hated Pigeons” and live flute music. It’s about a deeply emotional quest through Chile by a young man after the death of his lover.

It’s a lot to do — and the five projectionists have to be flown in to do it, he notes. “It can be stressful, but I’ve been a producer in theater and film for 25 years. There’s no time to think about anything else. You just do it.”

The massive job of organizing the ephemeral and engaging AIFF — recently voted to the list of “the coolest” film festivals in the world — could not be done without 370 volunteers, says Executive Director Cathy Dombi.

“It’s all contingent on the volunteers. We’re very organized. Each one has a job description,” says Dombi. “They get festival benefits and tickets based on the hours they work. They get orientation and training. People feel comfortable and are having fun. We work all year at this and, at the end, long hours are unavoidable. Then we do debriefing and learn what can be done better next year.”

Studying a big grid of volunteer tasks for the day, Operations Director Wendy Conner says, “It’s on-task and going superbly with our tons of insanely loyal volunteers running errands and getting supplies together.”

Feeling the rising excitement, volunteer Laurie Kurutz, prepares “creative materials,” including lists of what to do when responding to any safety issues in the front of the house. She notes, “What we all share is we believe in the mission of independent film and documentaries that make the heart sing. It’s all quality people and they love what they do. These are important values in my life.”

Intern Maddy Davey, a junior in film and environmental studies at Southern Oregon University, says she hopes the experience will apply as she shapes a career in animation and writing for film.

“Everyone enjoys it. People are happy and excited now,” says volunteer Carolyn Moeglein, as she helps get tickets printed. “It’s a joyful creative focus."

The opening night feature, “Honey Buddies,” was shot on Oregon’s Columbia Gorge. The Opening Night Bash follows at the Ashland Springs Hotel. “Boone,” about the goat-herding life in the Applegate Valley, screens Saturday morning. “Bastards y Diablos,” a feature shot by members of a Medford family, will be shown at noon Saturday. All three films will be shown in the Armory.

The Awards Celebration is set for Sunday night. Details are on AIFF’s website (www.ashlandfilm.org), with booklets available around town, including at the Varsity and AIFF office at 325 A Street, Suite 4.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.