HIFF 2011: Diary of a Volunteer-Oct 13 & 15

What kinds of stuff can you expect as a HIFF volunteer? People, all kinds of people.

So I was a little hesitant to bring this feature back, mainly because I did this last year and didn’t want to just rehash stuff I had already written. However, when you work enough events there’s something you begin to realize, you can put on the same event again and again, and always have a different experience each time. I should have known there’d be new stuff to talk about from HIFF 31.

A Great First Night
I really had a blast working the opening night of the festival. It was mainly because I got assigned to an awesome team. The other guy in our group was really outgoing and it definitely made for lively conversation while we worked. It just so happened that my team member also made friends with another woman who was with a different team, but during our downtime she sat with us and we all talked story about who we were, why we were all there, what we wanted to see, and of course, about other volunteers (more on that to come). It was somewhat funny that I was the veteran of the group since it was the first time for all of them working the festival, myself only having started just last year. In any case, the night seemed to fly by and I have to admit, I was a little sad to loose my team as I had no idea if I would be working with any of them for the rest of the festival. We all said goodbye and made our separate ways home.

Team 18 on opening night of HIFF 31.

Why Volunteers Should Work the First Night of HIFF
This is something that I only sort of realized this time around: it’s actually a good idea to work the opening night of the festival. I know everyone’s schedule is different, but if you can help it, you’ll definitely get a lot out of it, especially if you’re a first timer.

One of the biggest reasons why you want to work the opening night of HIFF . . . you get your volunteer shirt in the size you want it in. As the festival goes on, there’ll be those who won’t get a shirt in their size or worse yet . . . they won’t get a shirt at all. All that can be avoided by working the first night to ensure that you get one.

Another good reason to work the opening night . . . it’s the only night of the entire festival with the least amount of films playing. It’s the perfect way to “ease into” volunteering at the festival. With the exception of the opening night film (The Front Line) I don’t think any of the other films that played that night were sold out. With only one big film of the night playing, it kind of makes the workload easier to handle. Also, another reason things are sort of calm, the opening night gala tends to draw people (sponsors, directors, actors, talent, and other important people) away from the opening night. Less big wigs = less to worry about.

When Volunteers Go Rogue
I talked about this last year, but sadly it’s always going to be a recurring theme when you have free labor–you always have people that just don’t know how to follow the rules. Sadly, I wasn’t expecting to encounter someone like this so soon.

So to set tone, in our orientation earlier in the week, everyone was told a number of different things about being a volunteer. For time saving purposes I’ll cut to the chase–volunteers aren’t supposed to watch movies while working a shift. Fast forward to opening night. I’m working with my team and we were on a break, sitting around just talking story when we heard this older woman walking down the hall waving her ticket in the air. The funny thing was, she was a volunteer. I had seen her working earlier with a team and she had her volunteer shirt on, but now she was wearing another shirt over that, one that buttoned down the front.

Well when we saw her this time, she had her outer shirt buttoned up like she was off duty or something. Who did she think she was, Superman or something? Was her buttoned up shirt her civilian clothing? Did she think that by opening that up to expose her volunteer shirt would put her “on duty?” Whatever the case was, she was basically trying to hide the fact that she was a volunteer.

As she walked by us she was loudly pronouncing that we shouldn’t worry because she bought tickets to see a movie and that she had spent $8 on those tickets. On her entire march towards her theater, she kept making it known to the rest of us that she had paid for her tickets. Everyone in my group just looked at each other and kind of just laughed at her.

Obviously she had signed up to volunteer tonight, but I guess was confronted about seeing a movie on shift, hence she bought a ticket to the film she wanted to see–as if this was a way to get around this. We all just kind of had to shake our heads at this woman. Why sign up to work a shift at all if you’re going to go see one of the films–just don’t work. It’s as simple as that in my opinion. What I think happened was, this woman is a longtime volunteer and from what I’ve noticed, they are the ones that have trouble complying with the newer rule about not watching films while on shift. Hence her justification about buying a ticket (as if that made everything ok).

Why the Volunteer Shirt is So Important

A closer view of the nice and blue HIFF 31 volunteer shirt.

I signed up for the afternoon shift on Saturday and reported for duty wearing the volunteer shirt. When I got to my assigned theater, I noticed that I was kind of the only one that had the volunteer shirt on. There were other volunteers there, but they were wearing only regular clothes. What I noticed started happening was that I was fielding a number of questions from patrons while those volunteers wearing plain clothes were getting passed by. It was actually pretty funny to see as people would just blow past other volunteers and come straight to me for questions.

The reason for this was because I was the only one at that time that had a volunteer shirt on. People knew to come to me because I was there to help out. This year’s shirts are blue and they definitely help you to stand out from the crowd (a nice colored shirt tends to do that). Sure there were other volunteers there wearing volunteer badges, people still came to me because I was more easily identifiable. I also think I got a lot of questions because people are trained to seek help from someone in uniform as opposed to someone wearing plain clothes. I mean think about it, if you were out on the street and you saw a mailman, fireman, or policeman, wouldn’t you be more inclined to ask them for assistance rather that other people that just happened to be on the street?

So, like I said, the volunteer shirt is definitely key. And since it’s so key, wearing it is a big responsibility–people expect you to have answers. Even if you don’t have the answer, you need to figure out how to get them to someone who has the answer. Probably the biggest thing is to just consult the back of the volunteer badge and look at the schedule. Everything’s pretty much there; when things are playing, what theater they’re in. Knowing that alone will definitely help out.

Also, since the shirt is important, you definitely need to find a way to wash it when necessary. You may be able to get away with wearing the shirt a night or two without washing it, but at some point you will have to, so just recognize that early on. This isn’t baseball, you don’t just keep wearing the same shirt because you’re on a hot streak. Best thing to do if you need your shirt the next day, throw it in the wash with some other clothes (doesn’t have to be a lot) and put it on the fastest wash cycle. Then when it’s done, just throw everything in the dryer before you go to bed. Though it might be a little wrinkled in the morning, at least that’ll be better than wearing it stink the next day.

Other Stuff From Saturday

Short Staffed–When I checked in on Saturday I was about 5-10 minutes late. I looked for my name on the sign in sheet and I realized that more than half of the volunteers that were supposed to work today haven’t showed up yet–not a good sign. Sure enough as the afternoon progressed the effects of volunteer no shows could be seen–captains and other staff members had to pick up the slack. Those of us that were there were asked if we could work an extra shift to help out. One guy said he could while myself and another guy said we couldn’t. I had already purchased tickets to see Elite Squad (my most anticipated film of the festival) and so there was no way I was going to miss seeing that. If I didn’t have tickets, I definitely would have stayed to help out. Sadly I couldn’t.

When Volunteers Go Rogue II–So that lady I talked about in the first part of this post was there again on Saturday, and she was up to her old tricks. I didn’t realize she was “working” since halfway through the shift I saw her coming out of a film. Of course she had her shirt buttoned up again. I wondered to myself if she had paid for her ticket again or if she just went rogue and snuck in. In any case, a few minutes later I see her talking to HIFF executive director Chuck Boller. It looked like she was complaining to him, about what I can’t be sure. The only thing I overheard her say was something like, “we shouldn’t have to stand for that.” Whatever it was, I just had to shake my head at her again.

I really dislike people like that. For one thing, if you have any problems talk to the people that are in charge of us, not the top guy of the whole festival. Cutting to the top of the chain of command to complain about something is just weaksauce. Now on the other hand, she might have actually known Chuck (though I highly doubt it). However, if this was the case, why does she need to volunteer if she knows him? She’d be a ‘priority line’ type of member if she really did know him, which would also mean she wouldn’t have to volunteer to see a film anyway. In any case, Chuck listened to what she had to say, kind of said something like he’d look into it, and then went on to the next thing he needed to be at.

All in all, it was a pretty good first couple of days of the festival. As we head into the middle stretch of the festival I hope to see previous teammates and festival friends from last year. Oh yeah, and a few more films too!

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