Checking in with Todd Looby, BendFilm Festival Director

(Todd Looby | Photo courtesy of BendFilm)

  1. How did you make the move to Bend from your native Chicago? 

My wife and I were very motivated to move west when the position for BendFilm Director and Programmer came up. I thought it would be a great fit with my business management, nonprofit management and filmmaking experience. Luckily the hiring committee agreed and we were given the incredible opportunity to move our growing family out here and work for an incredible organization.

  1. What was the transition like from filmmaker to festival director? 

I felt it was a relatively seamless transition (not easy, necessarily) but it felt right. I had been on the festival circuit for years learning about all the right [and wrong] things to do in the service of both filmmakers and audiences. I was ready for a change and I really enjoy the “production” aspect of running events and the problem solving as well as keeping in tune and pushing the artistic and creative content. I still make a few short films each year, most of them about my kids and my annual Bend Bicycle Film Fest submission of my five year old son and his love for biking. I get to still stretch that filmmaking muscle but feel more at home in this role as being a person who works all year to celebrate great emerging artists and hopefully building careers of the most talented among them who may otherwise have hard time of getting noticed.

  1. What attracted you to Bend? 

I had always wanted to move west since I was a kid, watching Marty Stouffer’s Wild America every day after school. Due to life circumstances and the pursuit of filmmaking, I stayed in Chicago. When this opportunity to came up, I knew it was probably my last chance to move to the mountains and to be so close to all the outdoors activities I love: mountain biking, climbing, hiking, skiing and just getting lost in the woods.

  1. What sets BendFilm from other festivals? 

Festivals succeed on programming, place and audience. Bend has an embarrassment of riches in all three. Erik Jambor who will return for his fourth year programming BendFilm has a 20 year career building the best indie fests in the country. He understands what our audiences enjoy while knowing where to take chances to introduce our audience to things they’d not otherwise see. Bend is beautiful with a charming downtown, close proximity to everything city dwelling audience members who travel and filmmakers hope for all year long. The screening venues are unique and [the festival] has an incredibly relaxed vibe where audiences and filmmakers alike really appreciate the ease at which they’re able to interact. Every year we get many comments from filmmakers about how engaged, welcoming and intelligent our audiences are. These filmmakers go to fests all over the world and often cite our audiences as among the best.

  1. What film festivals around the country/world do you like to attend? 

I like going to True/False in Columbia, Missouri. I try to go to Sundance and Slamdance every year. I haven’t been to Seattle International since I screened there and want to return this spring. I love going to Ashland every year and I’d like to check out the Sun Valley Film Festival as they are doing some interesting things.

  1. What changes have you seen here in Bend and in the festival itself? 

Bend has grown for sure. The festival has also grown, now on nine screens throughout Central Oregon. We added a Madras venue my first year and have been back almost every year since. We added BendFilm Underground to screen some of the more experimental films that we had a hard time fitting in otherwise. Because of help from Bend Cultural Tourism Fund, Roundhouse Foundation and [other private] donors, we’ve been able to fly in more filmmakers and because of our great hospitality hosts we can put them up in great places. The budget has almost doubled since I started and donors and ticket-buyers have endorsed that growth by making sure we can add all these great programs and benefits to filmmakers while meeting our budget.

  1. What will be new this year for the festival? 

We’ll reinstate some of the great additions of last year, including the IndieWomen of the Year Award in memory of Pamela Hulse Andrews which will go to a very accomplished female filmmaker, who is pushing the envelope as we all know Pamela did. We’ll have a Native program again, show more work by local filmmakers, reinstate BendFilm Underground at the Volcanic and have crazy circus performers keeping the town engaged as they wait for the next film.

  1. What do you want local readers to know about the festival? 

That the festival is for everyone. We have a film in the program (of the 110 we show) that anyone, regardless of interests or circumstances will enjoy. I invite everyone to get connected to a group who may give away tickets or just login and buy one ticket to the festival. They’ll figure out how easy and fun it is to attend and will be back next year buying two to three tickets and so on. It is an undeniably powerful experience to watch an incredible film you’d not otherwise see with a packed audience and hearing from the talented filmmaker after.

  1. What do you like most about living and working in Central Oregon? 

I like walking to work. I like having an incredibly engaging and challenging job that always changes and grows, keeping it incredibly interesting. If I had this job in Chicago, Seattle or Portland, I doubt I’d have as much time to get out there and enjoy the outdoors and spend time with my family as much as I do. Central Oregon allows a great work-life balance where you can have meaningful work and more free time because commutes are so much less.


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