Any seasoned film festival-goer is accustomed to seeing whole troops of people in matching t-shirts working the theatres, answering questions, directing traffic and helping to make the public’s fest experience a happy one. Yes, these cinema devotees are as much a part of the festival landscape as lineups and popcorn, and hundreds upon hundreds of them volunteer their time each and every year at Toronto’s many film festivals.
But did you ever stop to think about just who wrangles these volunteers? Who finds them, schedules them and makes sure they’re where they’re supposed to be? Well, at the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival that job belongs to Gina Rim and she took some time out of her very busy post-fest schedule to talk to TFS about what it’s like to manage a staff of over 200.
Name: Gina Rim
Occupation: Volunteer Coordinator
Describe what led you to this job? A few years ago I got addicted to volunteering at film festivals. I later realized that I wanted to work in film festivals but not sure exactly which part of the film festival I wanted to work at so I became an intern at Reel Asian. It was really amazing learning about the various aspects about the film festival while interning but I was always drawn by the volunteers who helped make the festival happen. I guess it showed because the next year I got hired as the Volunteer Coordinator and have been with Reel Asian ever since.
Describe a typical day at the office for you: I don’t think there’s a typical day at a film festival, but a month leading up to the festival I would be replying emails from volunteers all day or in meetings with them. Sometimes I would do a one-on-one interview/sign-up session for each Reel Asian volunteer from 9am to 9pm. It’s a lot of work but I really like to personalize the volunteer’s experience with us so I would meet a volunteer for an hour, get to know them, learn about their interests and background, then help find a volunteer position that would best suit them. Sometimes I end up just creating volunteer schedules all day without talking to anyone, even staff. Maybe this is typical…?
What do you like best about your job? Working with volunteers and seeing them fall in love with a film festival for the first time like I did many years ago. I love seeing my volunteers come back the next year to be a volunteer captain (a senior volunteer position that manages the volunteers during their shift) or become part of Reel Asian’s various committees. I really teared up this year when I saw a few of my volunteers from the previous years managing a group of volunteers themselves as captains. It really feels like your babies have left the nest.
What’s the most difficult part of your job? Being strict!
Is there some aspect of your job that might surprise people if they found out about it? That it has a lot to do with people skills. When I tell people that I work as a volunteer coordinator, they think I just create volunteer schedules and assign volunteers to them- but it doesn’t end there! I am in constant communication with people who are interested in volunteering year-round and make sure they are comfortable with whatever roles they are about to take during the festival. I talk to my volunteers to get to know them better and let them get to know about Reel Asian as well. It’s not just managing the schedules and shifts, it’s really about dealing with over two hundred people and staying in contact with them year-round.
Favourite anecdote from the volunteer trenches? “Gina, you’re like my mom” – I’m not even married yet and I have a lot of volunteers calling me mom!
Favourite Reel Asian memory: My birthday is always the day after the Volunteer Appreciation Party (a party to thank our volunteers for their hard work during the festival) so I always have the best pre-birthday party at Reel Asian. I was really moved when I received a jar full of little notes that all my volunteers wrote this year, full of birthday wishes and funny jokes. I have the best co-workers as well. I have my very own ‘Shit Girls Say’ meme video now, called ‘Shit Gina Says’ that played at the Volunteer Appreciation Party as a surprise birthday gift from the Reel Asian crew. I don’t think I ever laughed that much in my life as I watched that video.
Favourite film that screened at Reel Asian this year? Wolf Children . Wolf + Children + Animation- best combination EVER! What if you fall in love with a guy who happens to be a descendant of the Japanese wolf, then you end up having to raise two wolf children as a single mom? And no, it’s not the Twilight prequel. I loved Mamoru Hosoda’s The Girl Who Leapt Through Time , so I was ecstatic to see this in our lineup this year.
Favourite Canadian Filmmaker? This is a really hard question! I met so many amazing Asian Canadian Filmmakers over the years while working at Reel Asian like Richard Fung, Lixin Fan, Joyce Wong etc. I really love all their work and the filmmakers themselves.
Name your favourite movie genre: Animation! Specifically Japanese Animation. I used to be a closet otaku and devour manga during high school like you wouldn’t believe. Animation is a bit different than manga, but I really enjoy all the beautiful artwork, the music, and the possibility of making a story come to life without making it seem awkward. Like raising two wolf twins in Wolf Children – nothing awkward about that! Seems like an every day thing.
What aspect of Toronto would you immortalize on film and why? How Torontonians really are the nicest people in the world! As someone who recently got adopted by this new country, I am constantly amazed how everyone is friendly, sincere, and just truly caring. I learned a lot and changed a lot after moving to Toronto and really wish there was a way I could show everyone how lovely people are in my new home!
Favourite aspect of the film scene in Toronto and why? The lines in front of theatres during a film festival. It’s really amazing to see a really long lineup in front of a theatre during the film festival, where everyone is super excited but organized and well-mannered. Most of the patrons have been to one film festival or another so they know that sometimes lines get inside the theatre a bit late because we have to re-set the theatre after the previous screening or we’re doing a tech check to make sure the film plays correctly. Toronto has the best film festival crowds!
Movie snack: sweet or savoury? Sweet AND savoury. If you’re going to watch a movie for over an hour, you might as well have both!
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