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Hundreds of Volunteers Take a Starring Role at the Austin Film Festival

Disclosure: KUT is a media sponsor of the Austin Film Festival.

Actors, writers and directors will be making their way to Central Texas over the next week for the Austin Film Festival.

The 20th annual festival will screen more than 180 films and feature more than 80 panels with industry pros.

About a dozen staffers work year-round to make it all happen. But the Austin Film Festival also relies on hundreds of volunteers. A contingent of those volunteers have been doing this for years – and donate countless hours to the fest.

Sara Ricke has been volunteering with the Austin Film Festival for the past seven years. And it’s safe to say, she loves it.

“The festival is my life," Ricke said. "This is Christmas, my birthday, everything all wrapped together in that one week and the energy that is at the festival is so intense and electric, there’s nothing else that I can compare it to.”

Ricke not only takes off from her job at the University of Texas the week of the film festival every year. She also takes off a couple of days ahead of the fest – just to make sure she’s prepared.

And she’s not alone.

Monica Lund says the folks at her office just know – the week of the Austin Film Festival is her week off.

“The last several years I’ve gotten a room at the Driskill and stayed the whole weekend so I can just stumble up to my room at three in the morning and just go, ‘ok I’m so tired and I have to be up in a few hours to make the next panel’ or whatever," Lund said.

The Austin Film Festival’s headquarters is a little green house in East Austin. Walk in the door in the weeks leading up to the fest, and you’ll see dozens of young people strewn across the living room, laptops in lap or at a cluster of desks in what probably should be a dining room.

That’s where Adolfo Bernal is at least a couple of times a week around the festival. His flexible schedule allows him to adjust volunteering around work.

“Today’s an example, today I went at 7:30 so that I could get off at two or three in the afternoon to come help out," Bernal said.

Bernal works on registration for the festival. He got into it one year when the festival was in a bind.

“After the first day of registration, there were huge problems and they needed someone who was fast with a computer. They threw me in, that was it,” Bernal said. “I like the interaction with all the festival-goers. I help them out, get their stuff in order. There’s a reason why this is my sixth year.”

Monica Lund is on year number 15 – and countless hours.

“I put in so many hours it’s not even funny,” Lund said. “Just reading one script and writing the notes. Each one is probably two hours – minimum. And I read over 80 scripts a year.”

Lund not only reads scripts for the screenplay competition but has also served on steering committees and writes for AFF.

“Whatever they ask me to do, I never say no,” Lund said.

So why does she do it?

“I get so much out of just being there and being around these creative people and it’s just energizing to me,” Lund said.

Sara Ricke understands that feeling.

“There’s nowhere else in the world I would get to meet these people, interact with these people,” Ricke said.

Ricke was one of the first filmmaker liaisons – a position unique to the Austin Film Festival. Filmmakers who want an extra hand navigating the festival are assigned a volunteer.

“Basically we just make sure every need is taken care of,” Ricke said. “It’s been everything from someone had a headache and I ran to CVS Pharmacy to buy Aleve to introducing them to Ron Howard to make a connection so they could pitch a next project.”

She says it’s a fun opportunity – but not for the faint of heart.

“We are on call 24-7,” Ricke said. “It could be 10 o’clock in the morning, it could be 10 at night and they want you to meet them at registration, you are there. It is more than a full-time job to volunteer as a liaison.”

Ricke, Lund and Bernal – and about 350 other volunteers will be hard at work over the next week. The 20th Annual Austin Film Festival runs through Halloween.

Disclaimer: KUT is a media sponsor of this year's festival.

Laura first joined the KUT team in April 2012. She now works for the statewide program Texas Standard as a reporter and producer. Laura came to KUT from the world of television news. She has worn many different hats as an anchor, reporter and producer at TV stations in Austin, Amarillo and Toledo, OH. Laura is a proud graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia, a triathlete and enjoys travel, film and a good beer. She enjoys spending time with her husband and pets.
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