Breck Film’s outgoing executive director looks back on 7 years with the organization
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the correct spelling of Janice Miller’s maiden name and a corrected job description from her initial time in Summit County.
Janice Kurbjun started her time in Summit County as a “ski bum” in 2010. Coming off a stint at a newspaper in Wyoming, she spent a season working local retail and as a rafting guide before coming over to the Summit Daily News, where she worked as a writer for a couple of years until she heard the Breckenridge Film Festival was looking for a new executive director in 2013.
Since then, both the director and the festival have undergone a few changes, including their names. Janice Kurbjun is now Janice Miller and Breckenridge Film Festival is now Breck Film. Miller said she was recently reflecting with Programming Director Dianna Nilsson about just how much has changed since her first year on the job.
“We were chuckling about how different things are from 2013,” Miller said.
For Breck Film, 2013 had its share of difficulties. The nonprofit’s previous director eventually would be charged with embezzling funds from the organization, and there was still a film festival that needed to be put on.
“We had our work cut out for us,” said Gary Martinez, who has been on the organization’s board of directors since 2012.
Miller remembers the effort that went into her first festival, including volunteers and board members like Martinez who stepped up to help the festival go off without a hitch.
“There was a working board and some really, really special volunteers who helped to put on that first festival,” she said about her first year.
Since then, the organization has added year-round programming with the incorporation of the Summit Film Society (now called the Breck Film Society) and expanded its educational outreach to students in Summit County and the Front Range.
“She helped us get off the floor, and once you get it there, you just have to do better and better every year,” Martinez said. “… And it has truly gotten better every year.”
Both Martinez and Miller said a lot of that work and improvement has centered around building relationships.
“I think a lot of it was the skills I had working at a newspaper,” Miller said. “It’s the best way to learn about a community. You develop, follow and pursue leads, bring people on board, get them excited and spread it out.”
Miller said getting to know everyone “from bigwigs to volunteers” was one of the more fun aspects of the job for her. She said building a good contact base for Breck Film was “more of a spiderweb than a flowchart,” and a lot of the work in building the festival came as she grew her network.
“Film festivals rely a lot on contacts, and you have to stay in touch weekly, almost daily,” Martinez said as he talked about Miller’s networking skills.
From her work growing relationships, the organization continued to grow and expand.
“Looking back, I really earned an MBA in small business management and development,” she said. “One of the key things I learned and got good at was putting together all the parts.”
Those skills, and the team that had grown together during Miller’s time with the organization, were put to the test in 2020.
“We got March in and a few good fundraisers and were rolling,” Martinez said. “We said, ‘What could possibly go wrong?’ Then COVID happened.”
Martinez said Breck Film’s efforts during the pandemic were part of an important “pivot year” for the organization as it shifted from in-person events to virtual events, including an online version of the festival that reached viewers from 41 states and six countries.
“If I had to look back on it now, I’d have to call it the performance of a lifetime,” Miller said. “Our goal was to serve our constituents — guests, fundraisers and filmmakers. We provided one of a few community activities and also a platform for our filmmakers.”
Martinez said he expects the changes that came about during the pandemic, especially the organization’s new streaming platform, will continue to pay dividends for the organization as it moves forward.
Miller is happy to be able to leave Breck Film in a strong position as she looks forward to what’s next.
“A lot has changed for me personally and professionally in eight years,“ she said. ”I’m excited and grateful to be in the position to take some time to evaluate and take action on a career pivot without worrying about leaving Breck Film during a difficult time in its annual life cycle.“
Miller’s last day was Dec. 31. Martinez said there’s no specific timeline to hire a new executive director but added that the organization is humming along, excited about the future and is already gearing up for the 2021 film festival.
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