AFI Member Spotlight: Shanna Ingalsbee – American Film Institute

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AFI Member Spotlight: Shanna Ingalsbee

For this year’s AFI FEST, Shanna Ingalsbee, who has been an AFI member since 2004, rushed back from a convention where she works as a public servant to volunteer at the festival for her 18th year in a row. It’s no surprise that Ingalsbee, who has a deep sense of justice as someone who works in politics, names TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD as her favorite film and is drawn particularly to world cinema about oppression, transformation and redemption.

AFI recently spoke with her about why the volunteer community is so special at AFI FEST and why film festivals are still vital as part of the cultural conversation.  

AFI: Why did you first decide to volunteer with the festival?

SI: I volunteer for a lot of different organizations. I’m just one of those people who likes to see behind the curtain, to see how the sausage is made. I’ve organized a lot of different conventions and large events over the years, and because I’ve been doing it for so long, I’m a good trouble-shooter. I love films, and I thought maybe I could put some of my skills to good use, and so I signed up.

AFI: What’s been your favorite part about volunteering at the festival over the years? 

SI: As I’ve come to AFI FEST over the years, just seeing the same members coming back and working with volunteers who are at the festival for the first time and showing them the ropes, I think that’s been the best part.

AFI: What films are you excited about seeing this year?

 SI: Because I’m here for such a short time, I’m just volunteering this year. But I do have a following of friends that I usually do an AFI FEST report for every year that includes the films that I’ve seen.

I also organize a movie meet-up group. I love foreign films, so a lot of the films I like at AFI FEST, I manage to screen for the group throughout the year. Every single one of them has gone over really well. The hard part is narrowing it down. We don’t expect everyone to like the film. That doesn’t make for a good discussion, but whenever everyone sees and gets something different out of it, that inspires them to want to watch it again.

AFI: When you’re deciding what to watch at a festival, what impacts your decision? Is it a particular genre, a specific director, or whether talent is coming? What do you look for?

SI: Sometimes it’s who is in the film, but I tend to see films in the World Cinema section because it might be my only opportunity to see them. I also like films where I would never ever expect what’s coming next. With the film festival, you’re making a decision based on a paragraph or a few sentences. Sometimes I’ve gone into a film and said, “this is nothing like what I expected, but I love it, and I’m so glad that I’m here.” Sometimes I even change what I’m planning on seeing if, a couple days into the festival, there’s a film that everyone is talking about, and I can fit it into my schedule.

AFI: What makes the volunteer community so special here? How have your interactions been with other volunteers at AFI FEST over the years?

SI: Sometime I feel like the odd man out because I’m not here to get a job in film. I’m just a movie lover. Because of that, it’s great whether I’m seeing a film or I’m standing in line with people that do this for a living and make films. I love being able to have conversations with them and hold my own. The other volunteers are also film lovers, and the conversations I’ve had with them are so intelligent, informed and enlightening. Any kind of in-depth conversations about film is what really attracts me.

AFI: Why do you think film festivals are still important, even in the Golden Age of television and a time where there’s a proliferation of streaming platforms at home?

SI: First of all, I think the idea of going to the theater as an experience is waning. There are more people who are saying, “I’ll just wait until it’s on Netflix and watch it at home.” But, at film festivals, you’re in an environment where you’re seeing movies where this may be your only opportunity to see them, and you’re seeing films from other countries. I think film festivals are necessary because it gives those of us who still believe in the experience an opportunity to share that with others who feel the same way, and as long as that need is there, I don’t think film festivals are going anywhere. Just look at how many there are. They’re everywhere because people need that sense of community.

My favorite part of a film is when the credits roll because I watch a film scene by scene, and then, at the end, that’s when the entire story flows over me. I’m one of those people who stays until the end of the credits, and I notice that others do as well at the festival. People respect the films and respect the people involved with making the films. When audience members notice someone they have worked with, they applaud. It’s that kind of experience that keeps me coming back.

Are you interested in volunteering? Join Shanna and become part of AFI’s volunteer community. Learn more

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