During the Chicago International Film Festival, there are lots of big-picture things set far ahead. Running a large festival like the one in Chicago, which concluded its 55th rendition of the fest on Sunday night, takes dedicated people planning it out for months. Yet on the ground floor, small things like ripping tickets, moving lines and quickly sweeping theaters fall on the teams of volunteers the festival accepts every year.
I had the privilege of volunteering at the Chicago International Film Festival this year and got to be a small part of the fest. I have always been into film, especially the festival season and all the movies that come out of it. Usually, every year my favorite movies make their debuts at festivals, and the hype surrounding them kept me wanting to go to a festival. It was hard to access at first, but now, as a first-year student at DePaul, I live only a few Red Line stops from AMC River East, where the fest is held.
I had heard about the volunteering opportunity while I was on the fest’s website last year when I was trying to figure out what they were showing. My friend and I signed up just to be a part of the festival, even if it was a small role. As DePaul students, we were not alone. Most of the volunteers came from DePaul or Columbia College Chicago.
“[There’s] a lot of outreach to film students, who always make for great volunteers,” Volunteer Manager Orli Spierer said.
The outreach for volunteers starts in the two big film schools in the city, where representatives like Spierer from the festival come to recruit eager students. DePaul and Columbia are both sponsors of the 55th annual festival, and students at both schools can use the volunteer experience to network and connect with other film students.
But I am not a film student, so networking wasn’t what drew me to becoming a volunteer. Instead, I just wanted to be around films. Film festivals are not only a stepping stone for awards; in fact, most of the movies festivals play don’t see the Oscars. They are smaller, ambitious films that continue to dive into a variety of complex themes. Movies that test audiences and find deep connections with those who get to see them are what drive festivals.
My experience as a volunteer was very positive. Of course, things get pretty busy, with lots of movies selling out and theaters worth of people swarming around. There is a lot of downtime, but volunteers help the entire event run well.
“We couldn’t do it without our volunteers,” said Allie Lennox, an assistant volunteer coordinator and former volunteer. “They make everything run more smoothly, they also keep our patrons happy and they keep us happy.”
There are a lot of people who want to be around festivals as well. There were 600 people who signed up to be volunteers this year – 200 more than the year before. The volunteer experience is one that any film fan should go for, no matter if they are a student or not.