Story and photos by Laticia Headings

Enthusiastic film goers aren’t the only ones eager to attend the Middleburg Film Festival each October. Dedicated volunteers, many of whom return year after year, lend their time, energy and support in numerous capacities throughout the festival. “For those of us wearing the bright orange T-shirt, it’s a four-day, fun-filled, action-packed adrenaline rush! [I’m] already looking forward to next year’s festival,” said Barclay Todd, a third-year volunteer.

Some volunteers drive over an hour each way to get to Middleburg. They take time away from their jobs, families and daily lives to be a part of the electric feeling that permeates the town during festival time. “It’s unbelievable. The things that Susan and Ms. Johnson have done here is unbelievable and a lot of the volunteers feel like we have become a part of that,” commented retired sixth-year volunteer, Bill Wiltgen. “We laugh and we joke, we’re like a family. They encourage that.”

Left: Beck Mason (sitting), Maria Drew and Chris Vitrello. Top right: Film crowds. Bottom right: Bill Wiltgen.

“Volunteers are an essential part of the festival. We couldn’t do it without them. They assist in all aspects of the festival from the box office to the theater venues to press check-in,” says Susan Koch, Middleburg Film Festival director. “They’re also on the front lines with our filmgoers — greeting them, making them feel welcome, and answering their many questions.”

With just a few people on the film festival staff, the box office and four screening venues heavily depend on volunteers to help navigate an ever-growing festival that gains popularity each year. It’s up to decidedly optimistic volunteers to keep everyone happy, including the occasional restless crowd. “It’s a hard job. It’s just like in a race, when somebody opens the door, everybody runs to the front,” said Donald Beazley, a sponsor of the festival. “Being knowledgable and being affable are the two primary considerations.”

“We get more and more volunteer applications every year,” stated Koch. “Middleburg Film Festival volunteers are dedicated and enthusiastic.” This year, 128 volunteers of all ages participated. Many do double shifts or even a full day. “I had some teenagers who were helping and I had a woman in her 80s who was helping and everyone in between. And they are all…eager to help,” says Volunteer and Venue Manager Anna Hanson. For each four-hour shift worked, a volunteer is given a complimentary ticket to see a movie if it’s not sold out.

One ardent volunteer, Rebecca Stewart, takes vacation time to help the week of the festival. Stewart remarked, “The Middleburg Film Festival is the highlight of my year. This is the longest time that I’m not working because I work two jobs. I work 60 hours a week, seven days a week. The longest time I take off is for the Middleburg Film Festival. This is my vacation. That’s how much I enjoy being here.”

Left: Rebecca Stewart. Top right: 2019 Middleburg Film Festival Schedule. Bottom right: Laticia Headings, Kris Bowers, Barclay Todd.

Most of the volunteers are united by one compelling factor – an endearing love of film. “I have a passion for film, number one,” commented Denene Crabbs, who has been volunteering for four years. “We are so blessed to have this opportunity to bring the quality of world-renowned, award-winning films into our community.”

Sixth-year volunteer Julian Jenkins says, “Films leave you with something, they leave a residue, something that makes you think and that’s what happens here. I’m delighted to be a small part of this.”

When it comes to films, the Middleburg Film Festival has a proven track record of picking the best. Many go on to win Academy Awards and gain immense exposure once they’ve been seen at Middleburg. “The line-up here is incredible. Most festivals will have a couple of heavy hitters and this is all heavy hitters across the board which is a little bit unique,” said Anna Hanson, who has also worked other film festivals such as Sundance, Mill Valley, Chicago and Baltimore.

There’s no doubt that at the center of every successful film festival are its volunteers, and Middleburg is no exception. “I think volunteers are the heart of the festival. Volunteers are the very people who make it possible to pull this off, in addition to the sponsors and the people who are involved in putting the whole thing together,” said Denene Crabbs.

“It’s like coming home with friends,” said Beck Mason, a fifth-year volunteer who can usually be seen transporting food from venue to venue for hungry volunteers and staff members. “Everyone is professional. Everyone is interpersonal. Everyone has a story to tell and everyone tells their story.”

If you’re interested in volunteer opportunities, please visit the Middleburg Film Festival website: ML

This article first appeared in the November 2019 issue of Middleburg Life.