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Film festival trims budget $60,000

The Ashland Independent Film Festival, facing tough times, has trimmed its budget by about $60,000. The popular event exhibits some 90 films in early April every year. It's the first-ever mid-year cut for the 8-year-old festival.

AIFF Executive Director Tom Olbrich said officials saw a budget crunch coming in October and strove to cut expenses in such a way that filmgoers would not notice.

"That was our first goal," Olbrich said.

Last year's budget for the fast-growing festival was about $360,000, up from $60,000 in 2003. This year it's been cut to $300,000.

Cuts were made in salaries, office expenses and money paid to filmmakers for travel expenses. There have been no cuts in the number of films shown, or in popular events such as showcases for area filmmakers and student films.

Board President Anne Ashbey Pierotti said in a statement the budget reduction was "a difficult decision but necessary."

Grants received by the festival fell by about $55,000 this year, and sponsorships from business by about $20,000.

Olbrich said ticket sales for the AIFF's annual Oscar Night Gala and Silent Auction, beginning at 4 p.m. Feb. 22 at the Historic Ashland Armory, were about normal. Tickets are $60.

For four years running, at least one AIFF entry has won an Academy Award. This year, four 2009 AIFF selections have been nominated for Oscars.

Olbrich said there were cuts in almost all parts of the budget. The job of an employee who left the festival was reduced to a part-time position, office equipment due for replacement has been kept, less work has been contracted out, and money given to filmmakers for travel has been slashed by about one-third from last year's $20,000.

AIFF this year will show only two or three extra-big films it pays to exhibit, instead of five or six. The event program, usually 88 to 92 pages, has been cut to 72. Olbrich took a 10 percent pay cut.

"We really looked at everything," he said.

About 850 films were entered in the festival this year.

"We believe it'll be as great as ever," Olbrich said.

The Oscar Gala is the AIFF's only fundraiser, drawing about 240 people and raising about $30,000 each year. The awards show will again be shown on two 30-foot screens with concert quality sound. Up for bids are vacations in Hawaii and other destinations and unlimited admissions to movies at the Varsity and Ashland Street Cinemas.

Membership passes for the 2009 festival are available now. Tickets go on sale to members March 14 and to the public March 18. Call 488-3823, or visit www.ashlandfilm.org.

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail bvarble@mailtribune.com.