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AIFF in full swing

The lights and cameras have been stowed away, but there's still plenty of action for film aficionados flocking to the Ashland Independent Film Festival this weekend.

Patrons started lining up Thursday at theaters around town for the first day of screenings, which continue through Monday with 91 independent films on tap.

"I feel like every time I come back to Ashland, it's like I'm coming back to my hometown," said Todd Cioffi, of Boston, who is back at AIFF for a fourth time.

"Ashland's festival maintains a unique vibe," said Cioffi, 48, comparing it to the Cannes International Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival and Newport International Film Festival.

"It's just a really great festival … well organized and very easy to get around," said D Searcy, waiting in line Friday to see "The Retrieval/Someone" at the Varsity Theater.

Searcy, 45, of Columbus, Ohio, is back at AIFF for a fifth time, she said.

About 15 percent of the estimated 7,500 film fans streaming through Ashland for this year's festival are traveling here from more than 50 miles away, said Anne Ashbey, the festival's executive director.

"We've had great turnout," said Ashbey, who expects as many as 20,000 tickets to be sold this year.

"I think people love the subjects of the films we have. This is the type of programing that they can't get anywhere else. We do have films that will appear on HBO or Netflix occasionally, but for many of these films, this is the place to see them," she said. "The added dimension of having filmmakers here in person to talk about the craft and subject really is a unique offering for people."

For filmmakers Nick Hartanto, 29, and Sam Roden, 30, both from Brooklyn, N.Y., it's an engaged audience that keeps them wanting to come back to the festival.

Last year, the pair was accepted for their short film "The Lonely Pair." This year, their short "An Act of Revenge" was their ticket in.

"We actually started writing it while we were in Ashland last year, because we knew we had to find a way to come back," Hartanto said. "We think very highly of it (AIFF) … for us, none have been as great as this."

Friday, the pair was standing in line to see "Congratulations" at the Varsity.

"The audiences here are always so smart and curious, they always want to stick around and talk about the film," Roden said.

"Film is a great conversation starter," Ashbey said. "I think people in this community really enjoy the fact that they can be together with other community members experiencing something and having a conversation about it."

Vranda Lee, 55, of Ashland is attending the festival for the first time this year.

"I've always been out of town in the past … finally I am here," she said, scanning an AIFF guide to determine which film would be her festival first. "Ashland is such a creative town. … I think this is a wonderful asset for our community."

Ashland is known for its festivals, said Richard Wilhelm, 59, of Portland, also attending AIFF for the first time this year.

"I've been here for the Shakespeare festival, but you get a little bit of a different buzz from the film festival," he said.

Sue Arbuthnot, 54, of Portland, waiting in line Friday with Wilhelm to see "The Moo Man," said the pair have long looked forward to attending the festival. They "had a chance to get a feeling for it" during Thursday night's opening bash, the festival's official kick-off party.

"We had a chance to try some local foods … there were a few vineyards we didn't recognize, so we tasted some local wines," she said. "I'm glad we finally had the time."

The festival will continue through Monday at the Varsity Theatre, 166 E. Main St.; the Historic Ashland Armory, 208 Oak St.; and the festival's newest venue, Ashland Street Cinemas, 1664 Ashland St.

Tickets will be available from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. at the Varsity box office.

See www.ashlandfilm.org for the festival's full schedule of events and film descriptions.

Sam Wheeler is a freelance writer living in Talent. Email him at samuelcwheeler@gmail.com.