3 questions with … FilmDayton’s Beth DeVilbiss

The Dayton arts scene is deeper and more complex than it may look at first glance.

But if anyone can navigate its daily doings, it’s Beth DeVilbiss.

When the six-year-old FilmDayton organization needed an interim director after former executive director Megan Cooper moved on, FilmDayton’s board turned to DeVilbiss.

For a decade, DeVilbiss, 48, has worked at the Dayton Visual Arts Center and the Dayton Art Institute, where she’s an education employee and a volunteer docent. The Centerville resident has worked as a planner and an organizer, and FilmDayton — a non-profit dedicated to boosting what many consider a burgeoning film culture — tapped her to make use of that expertise. The organization encourages film students in Dayton, including those at Wright State University’s widely known and respected program. It also showcases movies worth watching, movies you may not see anywhere else.

FilmDayton’s premier annual event — the Eichelberger FilmDayton Festival — is just around the corner. It will happen Aug. 22-24 at the Neon Movies downtown, showcasing short and independent films from around the world that might not get an airing elsewhere. (A schedule of events can be found at FilmDayton.com.)

We recently sat down with DeVilbiss to talk about the arts scene, her place in it and her hopes for it. What follows is a condensed, edited transcript.

Q: When you think of Dayton’s cultural strengths — and it has many — film may not immediately come to mind. How do you explain what FilmDayton is to someone not from Dayton?

“FilmDayton, first of all, is a young organization. We are trying to get the word out. We’re trying to grow each year.

“I’ll start with our big events festival. We’re trying to recognize independent filmmakers, and the contribution they can make. I always explain, ‘Ever hear of the Sundance Film Festival? Well, this is a small tiny version, but it’s still the independents, trying to get their word out. It’s another art form.’

“We try to do workshops. We try to educate people. Wright State University is a great partner. And their film department … is incredible. And that’s kind of where it sparked to begin with: FilmDayton in collaboration with Wright State.

“We’re trying to get filmmakers here in Dayton. We did a whole commission project to say, ‘Hey, we’ve got this location, this location … Come here and film. This is a great area.’”

Q: What will happen at the film festival?

“Again, it’s all independent. This year, we reached out nationally, and getting a huge submission. We did get a lot of national and international films this year. And two of our spotlight films have been recognized in other film festivals. So we’re very happy to get those big spotlight films.

“We have the Ohio Shorts, so we’re still focusing on Ohio. So we have a group of Ohio artists, and most of those films were filmed in Ohio. We’re doing a whole block of just Ohio films, then we have the block of the international films. So we branch out to those artists and we welcome them here.

“Sometimes these independent artists, they have never had their work shown on the big screen. So this is their great opportunity to see their works on the big screen. It might be the one-time-only kind of viewing that they ever get. “

Q: It’s fair to say the festival is your most important annual event?

”Definitely. And each year we want to get a little bit bigger and a little bit better. We’re still working on that limited budget, but we have branched out, received a few grants this year. Those are very helpful. Eichelberger (the Jack W. and Sally D. Eichelberger Foundation) was a huge contributor this year, to help us to keep this film festival going …

“Personally, I would like to see more of our membership base expand. But there are a lot of small little membership pockets where you can you become a member, a lot of arts organizations. So how can we make all that work together? Can our members become your members? Can your members become our members, and share all that information with each other? I think that could be the collaboration of all these tiny arts organization together.

“(The idea) has already been put out there. But organizations, they want to still keep their identity. And they’re afraid maybe their identity is going to be lost in the process of (forming) an umbrella of membership organizations. … Expanding the membership base, getting the word out about what we’re going — that just comes with time.”

Know someone who can handle Three Questions? We’re looking for behind-the-scenes-but-still fascinating Miami Valley residents with something to say. Send your suggestions to tom.gnau@coxinc.com.