The Ashland Independent Film Festival has been chosen as one of 20 festivals nationally to receive a $20,000 grant from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to bring in filmmakers for personal interaction after showings.

The Ashland Independent Film Festival has been chosen as one of 20 festivals nationally to receive a $20,000 grant from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to bring in filmmakers for personal interaction after showings.

It is the first time AIFF has received the grant. It was eligible only after five years of successful operation, said Executive Director Tom Olbrich. Ashland was the only film festival chosen in the Northwest and the only location that wasn't in a major city.

"It's really a unique thing and a huge stamp of approval," Olbrich said.

"We want the best independent filmmakers to come to this festival and with so many festivals, about 1,500 in the country, it's very competitive and very prestigious."

The grant is dedicated strictly to transportation of filmmakers, which include directors, actors and subjects of documentaries. It more than triples AIFF's budget for that purpose, he said.

"The prestige is good, but it's for the audience, not the prestige," Olbrich said. "What the money does is it allows us, when the lights go up, to have that contact with the filmmaker. It gives the audience the intimate connection with the art they've just seen."

AIFF will hold its seventh season April 3-7 at Ashland's Varsity Theater and other venues.

While academy officials judge festivals on the quality of their movies, publicity, special events, creativity and other categories, "the world of film festivals is a small world and word gets around," he noted.

The academy's award letter said, "We're delighted to include the Ashland Independent Film Festival on the short list of festivals receiving grants. "¦ Our underlying purpose in assisting festivals such as yours is to encourage filmmakers, particularly those for whom a festival showing is a much-needed opportunity for exposure to and feedback from an audience."

AIFF has steadily gained a reputation among film lovers, drawing more than 6,000 last year. Many attend post-showing workshops, a gala Opening Night Bash and sold-out awards dinner at closing, said Olbrich.

The festival shows about 90 films over five days and operates on ticket sales, in-kind sponsorships from local businesses and grants from the Carpenter Foundation, Collins Foundation, Oregon Cultural Trust and Oregon Arts Commission. With varying benefits, it offers memberships at $60, $175, $250 and $500.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.