Eben Dorros '96

 

Mission Statement

Eben Dorros with actresses Thora Birch, left, and Jorja Fox at the 2007 Jackson Hole Film Festival
Eben Dorros '76 with actresses Thora Birch, right, and Jorja Fox at the 2007 Jackson Hole Film Festival.
Six years ago, Eben Dorros ’96 was fresh out of New York University graduate school, where he’d completed masters’ degrees in business and music composition for film. So it was natural that when Dorros decided to produce a film festival his first stop would be the library.

“I felt there was a need for independent film to become creative again,” Dorros said. “Sundance had started out as a true indie film market, but Hollywood kind of took over. I wanted to get back to a festival that empowered true independent filmmakers.”
But Dorros had a problem.

“You know there are only two books on how to run a film festival?” he said.

So Dorros based his planning largely in research on his soon-to-be competitors and knowledge of the town he had visited since his youth. “There had been a huge influx of culture into Jackson [Hole] in the past ten years, and, with the third-largest concentration of galleries in the West and the new Center for the Arts, Jackson was an easy sell,” he said.

In 2003, with a team of four, Dorros launched the Jackson Hole Film Festival, run by the nonprofit Jackson Hole Film Institute. The first year was a success, and an eye-opener. “I didn’t realize how much work it would be—four people, being a nonprofit, and trying to raise money.”

There are now 13 staffers, but bigger numbers aren’t the only indicator of the Jackson Hole Film Festival’s metamorphosis. Since its first year, growth in attendance and sponsor numbers has put Jackson’s festival on the radar of major film festivals such as L.A. and Sundance.

“All eyes are upon us,” Dorros said, referencing a recent chat with industry competitors. Numbers aside, much of the buzz concerning the Jackson Hole Film Festival now centers on its Global Insight Summit, whose planning committee is chaired by Bill Rouhana ’72. Part of the five-day festival is devoted to international social and humanitarian issues.

“We wanted to do something that would make a difference not only for the audiences and filmmakers who attend, but would actively ignite change for the people who represent the stories behind the films we’ve seen and will see,” Dorros said in a press release.

In 2007 the Jackson Hole Film Institute joined with Humpty Dumpty Institute, a New York-based organization focused on global humanitarian issues. The idea is not only to show films with social commentary, but to involve international policy experts, journalists, business leaders, and filmmakers in constructive dialog to exact change.

From Skyler Fitzgerald’s film Bombhunters, chronicling Cambodians who salvage land mines and bombs to sell for scrap metal, to a documentary focused on the rise of Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars from their war-torn nation, the 2007 Global Insight Summit gave a visual narrative to daily news headlines. Complementing the films, forums on human trafficking and the education of girls in the developing world, sponsored by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, added to the wide-ranging dialog.

The festival’s success in 2007, along with the partnership with the Humpty Dumpty Institute and United Nations, drew the attention of new U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Dorros was invited to meet with Ban and U.N. executives in New York to discuss expanding the U.N. partnership with his five-year-old film festival.

“I was speechless, sitting there in a room with people who had so much power,” Dorros said. “They spoke about flying the president of Nigeria to Jackson, and Ban agreed to give a welcome address.”

Ban will also run small-group forums with members of the entertainment industry to address furthering the partnership between filmmakers, the U.N., and international NGOs. And, while the films have yet to be selected, they should prove to be powerful exhibitions of film to address global issues, Dorros said.

“We’re both excited and nervous,” he said, referring to his high profile visitors. “[But] I know we’ll be successful; we’ve got a great staff,” he said.

“Our new program director passed up a position at Sundance to come here because she believed in our mission and what we’re doing here.”

—Chris Zajchowski ’07