Disappointment.

That’s what Sandy Henderson felt a year ago.

What a difference a year can make.

Back in fall 2006, BendFilm founder Katie Merritt had announced her intention to step away from directing the nonprofit film festival she founded in 2004.

Henderson, who had been in Bend four months, fresh off of 16 years working in the film industry in Los Angeles and her native Australia, knew her dream job when she saw it.

Unfortunately for her, someone else landed her dream job.

Erik Jambor took over as executive director of BendFilm in February.

Jambor resigned in November after this year’s financially lackluster festival, which saw a 15 percent drop in attendance on top of a late scramble to raise $80,000 that fell short of its goal by half.

Guess who got the dream job this time?

Friends and foils

Sitting in the BendFilm office, Henderson, 42, tells of her childhood in Adelaide, a south Australia city known for its wines, churches and artistic culture in general.

“Australia was a penal colony, by the way,” interjects Jim Bailey, president of the BendFilm board of directors and Henderson’s friend and foil.

“Thanks so much for that,” Henderson answers. “But Adelaide is actually where all the officers lived, so” — here she sticks her tongue out at Bailey, who’s chuckling — “to you.”

She likens herself to a military brat because of her father’s successful banking career. With each promotion, he moved the family around the country. “I’m incredibly blessed. I have a dad who I always knew that no matter what happened, all I had to do was make a phone call. And I think that’s really rare.”

Henderson believes the itinerant life led to her outgoing personality.

“I went to a lot of different schools, so I was constantly feeling the need to make friends and fit in, and probably that’s where the shy and retiring personality came from.”

And, from an early age, she fell in love with movies, classics mostly . “I think the first movie I saw that I really can remember is 'The Towering Inferno.’”

Bailey groans, then laughs: “Gawd. Despite that, she loves movies.”

“I used to earn my pocket money by doing the ironing,” Henderson continued, “and in Australia, on Saturday afternoons on the ABC (Australian Broadcast Corporation), they would have a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers festival, or a Bogey/Bacall festival. And I’d stand there doing the ironing, making my pocket money, watching the classics.

“When we talk of 'Lawrence of Arabia,’ or 'Casablanca’ or 'The Maltese Falcon,’ it started when I was 10.”

Henderson skipped college in favor of “the college of life” and moved to London for a couple of years.

In 1987, she moved to the U.S. She would become a legal resident and settle in Los Angeles, “with the singular goal of being involved in film, because it’s always been my passion. It’s always been my first love,” says Henderson, who incidentally is not involved in a long-term relationship.

She worked as a temp, then went to work for such companies as AFX Studio, a special-effects makeup lab owned by David LeRoy Anderson, who won Oscars for Best Makeup for “The Nutty Professor” and “Men in Black.”

By 1999, she began working for Patrick Wachsberger, president and CEO at Summit Entertainment, the international sales agency that bought “The Blair Witch Project” at Sundance Film Festival, “and turned that around into the phenomenal film release, the juggernaut that it became,” says Henderson.

In 2000, Wachsberger wrote a letter of recommendation for Henderson, which she shared with The Bulletin. He credits her with being instrumental in the success achieved by Summit and writes that “she has a brilliant future, and I promise that she will be an asset to any business fortunate enough to hire her.”

For three years beginning in 2003, one such business was Code Red Films, an international film consulting company that aims to heighten awareness about Australian films and filmmakers. Finally, she worked for New Line Cinema from March 2005 to June 2006.

From the early part of this decade, she had been coming to Bend to visit longtime friend David Rosell, chairman-elect of the Bend Chamber.

“Like everybody else, I said, 'You know what? I really like it here.’ It’s stunningly beautiful, especially after L.A., where it’s the complete opposite,” Henderson says.

Bend pet parade

“I came up here one July 4th, actually, and my friend David took me to the pet parade.

“You have a pet parade and there’s hundreds of dogs, and they’re not fighting with each other, they’re not growling, and I said, 'You know what, there’s got to be Prozac or something in the water, because everybody is happy.’ And how can you not want to be part of that?”

In July 2006, she made the move to Bend, where she enjoys hiking with her dog, and is not looking to go back to Los Angeles, except perhaps to visit her best friend from childhood, who plans to move there.

“The brilliant thing about L.A. is you see a lot of people at the top of their game,” Henderson says. “You see the very best of it, and you see the worst.

“I was really lucky in that I worked with a lot of people that just loved film, who were really, really good at what they did, and introduced me to people of the same nature, who were in it for the right reasons, as opposed to the razzle-dazzle.”

'She doesn’t have

an L.A. personality’

The first time Henderson sought the BendFilm director’s chair, she was just four months into her new life in Bend.

When she didn’t land it, she became director of promotions at Bend Radio Group. She also joined BendFilm’s board of directors.

She wanted to stay involved with BendFilm, she says, because she believed strongly in the festival’s cultural importance. “(I) still wanted very much to be involved because I think it’s a phenomenal organization, and I think it’s really important to the arts community and to the entire community at large.”

For his part, Jambor says he voluntarily stepped down because he had little interest in fundraising, a bigger aspect of the job than the film-school graduate had expected.

“A lot of the reasons why I came out here — a lot of those reasons ended up going away,” Jambor says. “The budget that was expected for ’07 was a little more optimistic than, I think, the organization was ready for.”

When Jambor resigned, Henderson says, “the board sort of sat there and pointed the finger.”

“Really, didn’t you?” she adds, directing her question at Bailey.

He answers by saying, “Sandy not only had experience in the film industry, but having been a board member since April, she knew everything about the organization from the inside out. So if we were going to avoid any disruption or have the smoothest transition, you look around the room, and lo and bold, there the person is.

“Rather than go through the process of ... three months to reach a decision — at the end of which it’s going to be Sandy — why do that when the person is sitting right there?”

Henderson says she expects that Bailey, a lawyer by trade, will play a larger role in the festival than a board president has in the past. “Jim has amazing business skills as a lawyer and brings a strength to weaknesses that I may have,” she says.

If it says anything about his dedication to BendFilm and Henderson, Bailey sticks around for the entire two-hour interview with Henderson. He says that if there had been any concern about Henderson’s capabilities among board members, they would have considered other candidates.

“But there was no significant concern raised that wasn’t very clearly addressed in terms of Sandy’s experience.”

Henderson replies, “Isn’t he lovely?”

Bailey adds that before they handed her the keys to the office on Powerhouse Drive, each board member did have questions for Henderson.

“My question was,” says Bailey, 'Are you too big for BendFilm?’ Given her background, it was like, 'Wow, this person is such a heavy hitter. This person has been in the big leagues. Does she come with a heft that would just overwhelm anyone here in town?’

He answers his own question: “It’s clear that’s not her personality. She doesn’t bring an L.A. personality to the job.”

Henderson bites her tongue a second, then blurts out, “Thank God!”

“Yeah, that’s the best thing I can say about her,” said Bailey. “She doesn’t have an L.A. personality.”

Playful banter aside, Henderson has joined BendFilm at a serious moment in its young life. Will Henderson be able to get local sponsors to pony up the cash in a cold economy?

Festival staff, including former director Jambor, stress that BendFilm still enjoys a strong reputation among filmmakers angling to win that $10,000 best-in-show prize. And according to BendFilm, festival attendees rated their overall experience an average score of 4.5 out of a possible 5.

But will any of that mean anything if it doesn’t have the support of its own backyard?

'The determining year’

Scott Ramsay, a volunteer with the festival since its second year and its director of selections, says that a lot of money BendFilm received traditionally came from builders and real estate agents. “And when the economy started to fall into a downturn, we knew there were going to be some financial challenges, but we didn’t know the extent of them.”

Ramsay coordinates the selection process, leading the committees that cull the hundreds of annual submissions down to the 85 that screened during the four-day festival.

“We had great submissions. I think the overall programming for this year was better than the previous year, but because of limitations in funding, it was really a struggle to make the festival as exciting as it was in previous years.”

For example, with the belt-tightening necessary at this year’s festival, BendFilm did not bring in high-profile personalities quite on par with previous years.

“Budget cuts certainly impacted our ability to bring in as many filmmakers as we would have liked, or invite in a marquee celebrity like John Waters, two things that the general public really values,” Jambor said after this year’s event, held Oct. 11-14.

Henderson’s 1,000-watt personality alone seems likely to bring the excitement back. Ramsay says BendFilm needs a “strong enough personality” to keep momentum going, and he felt even last year “that (Henderson) was an absolute right solution.”

He recalls meeting Henderson at the post-announcement party at the Tower Theatre before the 2006 festival.

“She came strolling right up to me and said, 'You don’t know me, but I’m going to be on the selections committee next year, because I worked in L.A., and I know film, and I want to be involved in BendFilm.’ I was like, 'Wow, who are you?’”

Her prediction came true. The two struck up a friendship. “I put her on the selections committee, and the rest is history,” he says.

Ramsay “absolutely” has confidence in her ability to lead BendFilm. “Erik brought some really great things to the festival. He brought some insight from other parts of the country, and he brought in some filmmakers and judges who have vast experience in festivals. And his programming skills were incredible. But it was a very, very difficult year for BendFilm. We made it through the worst of times, and we’re pushing on and are going to hopefully push it to the very best of times again.”

The 2008 festival “will determine whether BendFilm remains a small, community film festival, or it begins to grow exponentially and becomes a film festival on the map. This year will determine that.”

In other words, a lot is riding on the 2008 festival and people like Ramsay, the board and the 200-some volunteers to take the festival from here to there.

“This year will be the determining year,” says Ramsay.

Bout with cancer

Over lunch at one of her favorite restaurants, Merenda, Henderson discusses something much more personal: when she was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer in 2003.

“I was so blessed during the entire experience, because I got to see the very, very best of people. I got to be on the receiving end of such love and support; I mean, unconditional love and support.”

She adds how important it was in her recovery to have that best friend of hers, Karen Wiseman, by her side as she underwent chemotherapy, surgeries and radiation.

Further, cancer changed her view of life, she says.

“It makes you appreciate everything. I would not be in Bend if it wasn’t for going through breast cancer. It changes how you want to be in your life.”

Ramsay says that on a volunteer basis, Henderson has accomplished more in the past month and a half in terms of fundraising than anyone did all of last year.

Imagine what she might accomplish now: As of last Tuesday , she began working at BendFilm full time. Prior, she’d been dividing her time between BendFilm and Bend Radio Group.

Jim Gross, co-owner of Bend Radio Group, is sorry to see her go. However, “You can’t help but feel happy for her, that she’s doing what she wants to do, and where her passion is. It’s kind of fun for us as well. You can’t hold on to everybody forever. You just hope that the time you have them is good for everybody, and that they move on to great things.”

Henderson says she plans to make the festival a year-round presence and give something back to the people. “It comes back to my MO right now, that BendFilm needs to give back to the community as well.”

On Wednesday, she told The Bulletin, “Last night I met with a sponsor who has re-upped and increased their sponsorship by another 25 percent; (another) sponsor has done the same.

“There is absolutely zero debt,” Henderson says. “We’re in the black. And as of the meeting I had last night with an anonymous sponsor, we’re very much in the black.”

One of Henderson’s first duties in a more public capacity will be hosting a free screening and discussion of “Babel” on Jan. 17 at Central Oregon Community College’s Hitchcock Auditorium.

'No bitterness’

In hindsight, she says, it’s probably best that she did not get the job last year.

“I feel like I bring so much more to the equation,” she says. “A friend of mine said to me, 'Aren’t you bitter about this?’ And I said, 'No,’ because I got the job I wanted.”

“And seriously, having had breast cancer, you learn not to be bitter. You learn to appreciate every day, and everything happens for a reason. So no. No bitterness. Life’s too short.”

Henderson says that if she had been appointed executive director a year ago, “I didn’t have the network of professional and personal contacts that I do now. And having been the director of promotions for the Bend Radio Group, there’s a whole slew of contacts that I can bring in. Whilst it would have been great to have had it then, it’s more beneficial to BendFilm that I’m getting it now.

“It’s literally the job of my dreams. So I’m really, really happy,” she says. “To be able to do film in Bend, it’s such a gift for me right now, to be able to do what I love in a town that I love.”

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