SIFF spotlight: volunteering at SIFF

It’s hard work putting on a big event of any sort, especially a huge festival like the Seattle International Film Festival, and one of the key requirements for success is having enough people on hand to do all the jobs, big and small, that need to be done. In addition to their full-time staff, SIFF relies on volunteers to to help keep everything running as smoothly as possible.

There are about 50 – 80 volunteers who help out at SIFF throughout the year, says SIFF Volunteer Coordinator Monica Hinckley, who help out at SIFF Cinema and distributing their SIFF Cinema catalogs throughout the city. That number swells to 600 to 800 during most festival years, but this year they have over 900 active volunteers. Festival volunteers fill many roles from the obvious, like box office will call staff and ushers, to the positions like guest relations driver or bartender. SIFF volunteers introduce films, photograph the events, represent the festival as part of the street team, help out in the festival and guest relations offices, provide translation or interpretation services, provide technical or production assistance and much more. There’s a position for just about anyone.

Managing that many people is a job in its own right, so SIFF relies on an on-line scheduling tool called Shiftboard which allows people to sign up for teams and then check that team’s calendar for open shifts. There are an amazing 3,500 shifts to get covered. Volunteers choose their level of commitment: shifts can be as short as one hour or as long as eight and volunteers can pick up as few or many shifts as they like.

In addition to the satisfaction of helping to put on the largest film festival in North America, volunteers get some tangible perks: every two hours of work earns a voucher for a Festival ticket or for use at SIFF Cinema all year long. Addtionally, those who commit as interns, working 20 hours per week get a Staff Pass; members of the front office volunteer team agree to work four hours a week for six months and earn a Festival Pass.

Volunteer recruitment starts long before the Festival but even now it’s not too late to sign up: volunteers are accepted during the entire course of the festival. (They particularly need ushers for the last week as those shifts can be hard to fill.)

SIFF volunteers represent a wide variety of types of people – students, retirees, employees of companies that encourage community service, and film lovers of all sorts. Two of the volunteers this year are Eric and Kathy. Eric has been a SIFF volunteer for four years and has done a bit of everything: he’s been an usher, worked will call, sold merchandise and concessions, helped with event production, general office work, promotions and members. Kathy is a front office volunteer whose just started at SIFF this year. They were both happy to talk about their SIFF experience; follow the jump to read more.

MB: What originally inspired you to volunteer for SIFF?

Eric: Volunteering has been something that I’ve enjoyed doing for a long time and I’m always looking for new and interesting opportunities to help non-profit organizations around the area. I started volunteering at a very young age in my home town of Quincy, WA, at the public library, and I have continued to be an active volunteer after I moved to Seattle 20 years ago. I have a good friend, Shirley, to thank for getting me connected with many of the organizations that she and I volunteer for, but SIFF was an organization that I found on my own when I saw that they were looking for volunteers.

Fortunately, the film festival happens during a time of the year where there are few other events going on for me, so I am available during that time to volunteer, which is why I first signed up to volunteer with SIFF. My friends and I volunteer for many organizations around Seattle, such as the Woodland Park Zoo, Washington Talking Book & Braille Library, Lifelong AIDS Alliance, Friends of the Seattle Public Library, Seattle Goodwill, March of Dimes, Three Dollar Bill Cinema and the Leukemia Lymphoma Society, just to name a few.

MB: What’s made you stick around since then?

Eric: There are many reasons for me to stick around and continue to support SIFF. Above all, I believe in SIFF’s mission “to create experiences that bring people together to discover extraordinary films from around the world. It is through the art of cinema that we foster a community that is more informed, aware, and alive.” I think that this is a very dynamic and worthwhile goal and I want to be a part of it. Then, on a personal level, the people involved with SIFF (the staff, the other volunteers and the guests) are very friendly and always appreciative of the help I give them and that makes me feel wanted and valued. I’ve enjoyed having the opportunity to meet all the people involved with SIFF and I look forward to seeing them again and meeting new people who have recently discovered what SIFF has to offer. By nature, I’m generally a shy person but volunteering at SIFF helps me to break out of my shell and gives me a reason to talk to people and a purpose for getting to know them while I talk with them before and after the movies. I like to hear what people think of the films they see and learn what movies they recommend as “must see”.

MB: Is it hard work or easy–or maybe a combination of both?

Eric: To me, I think it is very easy. The SIFF staff and other volunteers provide constant support and backup, so if something comes up that I can’t handle on my own, they are right there to offer a hand. I’m also impressed by the people who have been attending the film festival much longer than I have been volunteering for it because they often like to offer their help and give me a history lesson on how things used to be in the past, when SIFF was just starting 35 years ago, and how I can most effectively do the task that I need to accomplish. This festival is for them and they want to see it succeed as much as I do and for it to go as smoothly as possible for everyone so all of us can enjoy it.

MB: What different about volunteering during the festival versus volunteering year-round?

Eric: There are some minor differences between the year around experience and the festival experience, but there are similarities too. Many of the people who come year around are often the same regular group that I see during the festival. They are true cinephiles and they know what to expect and make volunteering very easy because they are self sufficient.

MB: What do you enjoy most about being a SIFF volunteer?

Eric: The primary thing that I enjoy about being a SIFF volunteer would be reuniting with people I’ve meet before and getting to meet and talk to new people too.

MB: Would you recommend volunteering for SIFF to other people?

Eric: Definitely. I think that volunteering for SIFF is a great opportunity to meet other people and make new friends while helping an organization that does so much good in our community. Especially in times like we are in now, where a lot of people are unemployed and looking for a job, volunteering is a good way to do a little networking because you never know who you are going to meet and this is a unique opportunity to get yourself out there and possibly make some connections.

MB: Besides the film vouchers, what do you get out of volunteering for SIFF?

Eric: I believe that volunteering is all about what I can give not what I can get out of it for myself. Volunteering isn’t like a job where I need to be compensated, instead I look at it like I am the one paying the organization with my time for the good work that they do. If I don’t like what an organization is doing, then I don’t reward them with my time. Luckily, SIFF is a great organization and I feel that it deserves all the hours I can give. I just wish I could give SIFF a bonus for all it does. Therefore, getting to see films is a very minor benefit from volunteering. When I do watch a movie, I feel very fortunate, but it is the intangible things that I think are more important: making new friends, feeling the reward of helping others, building my customer service and organization skills and being part of a Seattle tradition.

I’ve had the opportunity to meet some of the filmmakers and actors when they have come to SIFF to present their work. I don’t get star struck by big name celebrities, but it is fun to drop names to friends and family by casually mentioning that I had the opportunity to shake hands with the talented people that SIFF attracts to Seattle.

MB: What originally inspired you to volunteer for SIFF?

Kathy: When I was laid off a couple of months ago, I thought about opportunities that I was too busy for while I was in school and worked. Film came up and since SIFF is the biggest and most respected film festival in the world. This made it easy for me to decide where I wanted to dedicate a couple of hours a week to. A perk of volunteering is the free movies passes, which is an offer I couldn’t refuse!

MB: What makes volunteering for SIFF different from volunteering for another organization?

Kathy: I decided to volunteer at SIFF because I love movies and have a strong passion to work in this field. I hope to help create films one day and want to gain as much information as possible about the industry. SIFF works hard to bring people together to experience the art of films. It provides a great opportunity for filmmakers to showcase their work and for filmgoers to preview unique movies.

How did the volunteer sign up process go for you?

Kathy: The volunteer sign up process was pretty simple. I went on the SIFF website and registered for an account through Shiftboard. Once my account was confirmed, I searched for volunteer positions and quickly applied for the front desk volunteer.

MB: What do you think of volunteering for SIFF so far? Is it fun, hard work, both?

I love volunteering at SIFF. Everyone works very hard and love what they do. I hope to find a job and company that I love just as much as they do. The environment is always positive and fun.

MB: Would you recommend volunteering for SIFF to other people?

Kathy: I definitely recommend volunteering for SIFF. It’s been a fun experience so far, and I’ve met great people. As I mentioned earlier, free movie passes are a plus!

2 Comments so far

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    […] AT SIFF May 19, 2009, 12:38 pm Filed under: Film | Tags: Film, siff, volunteering Seattle Metblogs It’s hard work putting on a big event of any sort, especially a huge festival like the Seattle […]

  2. Volunteering at Seattle International Film Festival | Give-a-Shift: Online Scheduling blog (pingback) on October 6th, 2010 @ 10:49 am

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