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New program director excited to join film festival team

With the arrival of new program director Richard Herskowitz, look for some changes at Ashland Independent Film Festival — “new ways to different platforms,” such as mixing film with art installations, live performances and outdoor projections. 

What these daring “hybrids” could look like in real life remains inside the mind of Herskowitz, but don’t worry, they will be branches on the sturdy tree trunk — “maintaining the level of quality of theatrical motion pictures that this festival already has a great reputation for,” Herskowitz said. 

“I’m moving into a going concern and will try to make it better,” he said. “I will try to attract more and more really talented artists that I brought to other festivals.” 

Herskowitz fell in love with Ashland when attending the Oregon Shakespeare Festival over the last six years and AIFF over the last two, noting that he started by coming for the former, became enraptured of the latter and, “when the job became available, I jumped at it.” 

He is an experienced programmer, coming from film festivals in Houston, Virginia and Eugene. He was artistic director of the Houston Cinema Arts Festival since 2009 and will continue that role from Oregon. At the University of Oregon’s Film Festival, since 2009, he taught cinema studies and programmed the festival. He also is curator for UO’s Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. 

“I am really ready for Ashland,” he says. “I fell for the enthusiasm of audiences here. Every show was packed. You could see it in the volunteers too. Everyone felt well treated. I like coming into a going concern like this one. It’s long passed the threshold of acceptance, moving into affection.” 

Herskowitz described the main part of his job, programmer, as engaging 1,200 submissions and “shaping the whole program to make sure there’s a range of titles for everyone. The first year, I’ll be getting the lay of the land, observing processes that are already in place. … Film is evolving in new ways to different platforms. Exciting new stuff is being done … musical performances interacting and engaging with film in hybrid forms. I don’t want to make promises. We’ll see if audiences are responsive to some of the cutting-edge work being done.” 

Herskowitz replaces Joanne Feinberg, who was AIFF program director for 11 years. The festival runs in April and stages its World Film Week in October. Next year will be AIFF’s 15th season. 

Herskowitz was director of the Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville and was named 2007 Person of the Year by the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau. Herskowitz won the Human Rights Award in 1988 from the Tompkins County Human Rights Commission for programming films on that topic. 

Herskowitz says he has a considerable network of friends and colleagues in “Indiewood” (Hollywood for indie film makers) and hopes to bring many into the festival, while keeping in mind that it’s the quality films that must hold center stage. 

“The celebrity component can throw a festival off balance,” he says. 

Cathi Dombi, executive director of AIFF, said, “He is smart, dynamic and innovative, with proven successes in his field. Richard brings a wealth of creative talent, deep industry relationships, and over 30 years of film programming experience. He has what it takes to not only strengthen AIFF but also take it to new levels.”

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

New Ashland Independent Film Festival Program Director Richard Herskowitz. Submitted photo
New Ashland Independent Film Festival Program Director Richard Herskowitz has been artistic director of the Houston Cinema Arts Festival since 2009 and programs the University of Oregon Film Festival. Submitted photo