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AIFF director leaving after 8 years

Tom Olbrich is leaving the Ashland Independent Film Festival after eight years as the group's executive director, the AIFF said Monday. The nonprofit festival's board of directors accepted Olbrich's resignation at its July meeting.

"We are saddened to see Tom go after eight years of extraordinary work and dedication," AIFF Board President Ed McNulty said in a statement. "Together with his staff, he has made the AIFF one of the nation's premier film festivals, one that offers an experience so welcoming and positive that it attracts the best films and filmmakers."

Olbrich said it was his decision to leave, and that he has agreed to stay on through the transition period as the board searches for a new executive director. He said he felt the time was right for him to move on.

Olbrich said he doesn't have another job, or any plans.

"I've accomplished what I set out to do," he said. "When I came in I had one specific goal: to build on the idea of a film festival and make it as successful as I could. I've achieved that.

AIFF Board member John Love, a co-chairman of the search committee, said the AIFF will conduct a national search for a new director. The deadline for applications is Sept. 19.

"None of us expected him to do that," Love said of Olbrich's resignation. "He's been an incredible force in the AIFF's growth. It's hard to imagine it without him."

Olbrich took the helm of a small, all-volunteer festival in 2003. In his tenure, the organization grew into a well-known event with six year-round and nine seasonal employees plus more than 325 volunteers, an 11-member board of directors and a 25-member advisory council.

The 10th annual AIFF in April set a record with 18,000 tickets distributed to 7,000 attendees. The AIFF annually screens more than 80 independently made documentaries, features and shorts at the Varsity Theatre and the Historic Ashland Armory. It also runs a monthly film series.

MovieMaker magazine named it one of the "25 Festivals Worth the Entry Fee," citing a "perfect balance of organization, experience and cinema appreciation," and the National Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has twice awarded the AIFF prestigious support grants.

"Our search committee has begun to look for an executive director who can ensure the continued excellence of the festival and build on the foundation Tom has created," McNulty said.

The AIFF receives community support through donations, memberships, business sponsorships, advertising and in-kind donations, including lodging and meals for visiting filmmakers. The 11th annual event will be held April 12-16, 2012.

Olbrich said he was in no hurry to jump to a new job.

"I'll think about my next step when the timing's appropriate," he said.

"It's not how I've made my professional decisions. I've been lucky. When I left SOU I didn't know what my next step was. It turned out it was to be executive director of the AIFF."

Olbrich, of Ashland, said he expects to remain in Oregon.

"My one goal right now is the festival's continued success," he said.

Bill Varble is a freelance writer living in Medford. Reach him at varble.bill@gmail.com.