When Todd Looby was growing up in a middle class neighborhood on the south side of Chicago in a community full of cops, firemen and teachers, arts were not particularly encouraged.
"Art was not a hugely celebrated thing," the largely self-taught filmmaker said. "In recent years, it has gotten better, but I had to discover it myself. It was like, 'Wow, there's a whole other world that exists.' It's a part of me and it's really important."
As BendFilm's new executive director, Looby said he hopes to share that passion for film with the local community and build on the city's growing cultural appeal. To that end, he said the board is gearing up to make BendFilm a yearlong experience, sponsoring film events outside of the actual festival to promote the medium of film.
"You can't deny the fact that Bend's economy is very tourism focused. Arts are a big draw for tourists, as well the beautiful natural surroundings. People also want more, especially in the summer," Looby explained. He said he can envision things like outdoor film screenings to give visitors something to do in the evenings after a day spent hiking or rafting.
Looby seems uniquely qualified to take the helm of the film festival. The filmmaker has been immersed in the festival circuit the past five years, collecting ideas about how to improve on the experience, but he also has a background in business and nonprofit management.
Before venturing into filmmaking, Looby spent eight years in the commercial construction industry, managing multimillion-dollar projects.
"It's a very cutthroat, uber capitalist industry," he said. "You learn very well how to run something efficiently, how to track and control costs."
As a result, Looby added, he's gotten good at "doing something well for very little." All of his films—which have been well received on the festival circuit—have been no-budget affairs.
His most recent film, Be Good, stars indie actors Amy Seimetz and Joe Swanberg. And like many of Looby's films, it tackles subjects close to the director's own life—in this case, the challenges of balancing parenting with work and creative pursuits. The film won Best Narrative Feature at multiple festivals and has received glowing reviews for its authentic portrayal of the every-day struggles of family life.
And as executive director for the nonprofit Franciscan Works, which runs a boarding school in Liberia, Looby helped the organization increase its revenue by 34 percent in one year. In an economic climate where many nonprofits are struggling, Looby's background bodes well for the future of BendFilm.
While Looby isn't shy about the skills he's bringing to the job, he pinned much of his past success—and his hopes for a strong future for BendFilm—on the contributions of dedicated volunteers.
"What I did in my job (at the Liberia Mission school) was find all the good things already in place and find out how to have everyone work for the same cause of furthering whatever the mission was," Looby explained. "When the mission and the product are clear and celebrated, people give more willingly of their time and their resources to make it financially sustainable. A big part of my job (at BendFilm) will be making sure it stays financially sustainable."
It all comes back to Looby's overarching objective—to ensure the best experience for all the festivals stakeholders: attendees, filmmakers and the community. And he's grateful for the opportunity. When the job posting popped up in his search for career opportunities in Oregon (Looby's wife is from Walla Walla, Wash., and the young family was looking to move to the Northwest), he says it was a "no-brainer."