By Heidi Simmons
When David Gray, PSIFF Volunteer Coordinator, says he dislikes drama, he is not referring to a film genre. He is referring to how he manages over 800 film festival volunteers.
One of the many great attributes of the PSIFF is the high-quality, good-natured and easy-going volunteers. You have seen them all around the festival. They are the busy people with red lanyards wearing white shirts and black pants.
These men and women are interesting and competent people who love being a part of the festival. Whether organizing a movie line, collecting ballots, answering phones in an office or driving a shuttle, the volunteers contribute to the festival’s success by making it a fun and positive experience for attendees.
“I’ve been here long enough to know how to make it run as smoothly as possible,” says Gray. “I don’t want people stressed out. We don’t want the job to be a burden.”
Gray started as Assistant Volunteer Coordinator in 2008. Relaxed and competent, Gray looks ready for anything. He makes sure he listens to his volunteers, does his very best to accommodate their requests and won’t give them work that should be done by staff.
“The PSIFF is a big event and very enticing,” says Gray. “People want to be a part of it. It’s not like volunteering at a hospital, which requires training. We keep their responsibilities and requirements minimal. And the short term commitment of the festival is very appealing.”
To organize and schedule all the volunteers, the PSIFF uses an easy to navigate software system called Shiftboard®. “We make it simple,” says Gray. “We communicate mostly through email, but if people don’t like to use the Internet they just call.”
Over the 12 days of the festival, Gray makes sure he gets out of the office to visit the volunteers. He knows them by face – although he admits he doesn’t know all their names.
It’s been suggested that the volunteers’ average age is 75 years old. But Gray is not so sure of that demographic. “I haven’t really made a study of it. We have lots of high school kids. You just don’t see them because they’re in school during the day.” Gray thinks the PSIFF volunteers are a good representation of the valley’s population. They range from 16 to 90 years old.
To volunteer you have to be at least 16. Local high schools students earn community service hours, and after their service, receive a letter of acknowledgement from the PSIFF.
Gray also believes that the majority of the volunteers live in the CV year round. “We used to be able to tell where the volunteers lived by their area code. But with cell phones that’s changed,” says Gray. He estimates that one third of the volunteers live out of state.
The PSIFF always needs people. Every year over 100 new volunteers sign up. “The majority are movie buffs,” says Gray. “But for many, it’s just a great way to meet new people.” Gray recognizes that some of the volunteers have limitations. “There are volunteers who can’t stand for long hours or drive at night,” says Gray. “So we try to accommodate them as best we can.”
Signing up to be a volunteer requires filling out a simple online application. It asks your birth date and only an age range. There is a “General Skills” section that allows you to check boxes or add your skills. A list of languages is included for volunteers who can help with interpretation and translation. You check the departments you want serve. Finally, you must agree to the “Commitment to Excellence” statement.
Gray or someone in his office gets back to the applicants by phone. PSIFF positions are basically assigned by first-come first-served.
Volunteers are asked to work a minimum of three shifts. Each shift is four or five hours. The volunteers get a voucher for a movie ticket after the shift is completed. At the end of the festival, the volunteers are celebrated by the PSIFF with a banquet. Unused vouchers can be entered into a raffle for prizes.
Diane and Rolland “Rich” Richenberg have been volunteering for 19 years. They started after they retired from their interior design business in Palos Verdes and moved to Palm Springs.
“It runs so smoothly,” says Diane. “David Gray is very good. The entire staff does a wonderful job. Every day we get an email. I just got a notice they needed two people at the Camelot Theater. They keep right on top of it.”
Over the years, the Richenbergs have volunteered in most of the departments. As a couple, they try to work together when they can. They have worked the Gala, loaded screenings, taken and counted ballots, concierge service –- monitoring the premium seating — and sold festival merchandise.
For the last several years they have been working at the Regal Theater. They had four shifts over the duration of this festival. Both Rich and Diane like the energy of working at the Regal. “Seven out of the nine theaters are showing films. There is so much going on,” says Rich.
Diane enthusiastically breaks down how teams of four and five serve each theater. “The Lead Volunteer starts the day at 8:30 am and coordinates all the screenings. Every 30 minutes we load a theater,” says Diane. “We have to place queue cards, take tickets, check passes, distribute and gather ballots. It’s so busy. The day goes by fast.”
Diane and Rich are especially appreciative and amazed at the marvelous job the Lead Volunteers do. With so much PSIFF experience, they often train the new volunteers at the Regal.
A movie buff, Diane likes to see the movies. This year they saw eight films. What they don’t earn in ticket vouchers they buy. Normally they see up to 15. But they admit they are slowing down. Diane is 78 and Rich is 79. “I like my sleep more these days,” says Rich.
“We like volunteering. It feels like we’ve accomplished something,” says Diane.
It makes the Richenbergs feel good when someone attending the festival acknowledges their efforts and thanks them.
James Forneri, 77, has been a PSIFF volunteer for ten years and is a member of the Film Society. He works two festival shifts every day. He is so busy he does not have time to use his movie vouchers and gifts them to his friends.
You can find Forneri in the mornings at the Camelot Theater doing the concierge service. In the evenings, Forneri serves festival sponsor Stella Atois and Chateau St. Jean to the happy hour crowd in the PSIFF Hospitality Suite at the Renaissance.
“Volunteering is a good way to give back,” says Forneri. “It enriches your life and the people you serve.”
When a volunteer enters the office, Gray excuses himself and goes to assist. The two have a friendly exchange. Gray listens intently. He is patient and cheerful. Before the volunteer leaves, Gray shakes his hand and pats him on the back. Gray returns and says, “My volunteers always come first.”
A BIG thanks to all the volunteers who greatly enhance the festival experience. To become a PSIFF volunteer go to www.psfilmfest.org