Mar 21

AmDocs Home Stay Program Creates Unique Cultural Exchange for Filmmakers and Host Families.

AmDocs Home Stay Program Creates Unique Cultural Exchange for Filmmakers and Host Families.

When Ted Grouya came up with the idea of creating what ultimately became The American Documentary Film Festival and Film Fund (AmDocs), he had some rather innovative programs he wanted to make a part of the festival. One of them was the AmDocs Home Stay Program.

“I was an international exchange student,” Grouya said recently.  “And that really sold me on the cultural and personal benefits of the whole home stay concept. Later, I worked as an exchange organization area manager and counselor, and then, even later, I was a program manager for the Fulbright International Scholarship and Exchange Program.”

Much later, as an independent filmmaker traveling to film festivals in Europe, Grouya rediscovered the home stay concept. “European Film Festivals use home stays quite a bit.” he continued. “We don’t see it so much in the United States, but in other parts of the world it’s very common and very popular. I wanted to bring that sensibility to AmDocs because we have filmmakers coming from all over the world and I wanted them to really experience Palm Springs and its people.”

Finding the Host Families. 

A small core group of volunteers are responsible for making the AmDocs Home Stay Program work. Two of them, Elizabeth Press and Cheryl Smith, who have been volunteering for the festival since its inception, are the Home Stay committee chairs. They are responsible for recruiting, maintaining, growing the Home Stay family database, and for managing day to day communications with the host families.

“Right now we have around thirty five families taking part in the AmDocs Home Stay Program,” said Elizabeth Press, one of the Home Stay committee chairs. “We try to communicate with them throughout the year. We find that really helps us maintain our Home Stay families and keep them excited about participating in the program. We also host a Meet and Greet for the Home Stay families each year in early February to allow everyone to meet, socialize, and discuss their experiences.”

Once the final list of Home Stay families is complete, volunteer and Home Stay committee chair Cheryl Smith enters them all into the Home Stay database. “It’s a bit more complicated than you might except,” Cheryl says. “In addition to entering all the usual information like names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses, we also have to enter our “Eight Questions” that allow us to complete the matches with the filmmakers. We ask questions like ‘Dates available? Do you have pets? How many and what kind? Do you allow smoking? Do you have transportation, and can you transport your filmmaker to and from the theatre on occasion? Do you prefer a male or female guest? Do you accept children? Things like that.”

Each Home Share Family is asked to provide a bedroom, bath, and breakfast for their guests. Beyond that, how much they and their guest socialize is really up to them. In exchange, Home Stay Families are given All Access Flex Passes so they can attend as many of the screenings as they like. “They are also given recognition at the festival,” Ms. Press adds. “We are so proud of our Home Stay Families. We want to make sure they know how much they mean to us.”

The Match Game.

Once the families are all loaded into the spreadsheet, the second phase of the Home Stay Program begins. “This is where it really becomes a creative puzzle,” says Debbi Hinton, AmDocs Director of Operations. “We have to contact each filmmaker who plans to attend the festival, find out if they are interested in the Home Stay Program, then get answers to pretty much all of the same questions we ask the Home Stay Families, plus, from filmmakers, we need to get arrival dates and times, departure dates and times, transportation requirements, languages spoken, etcetera. It can be daunting at times, especially because we are often dealing with filmmakers for whom English is not their first language. Adding to the dilemma is the fact that these sorts of plans are always fluid. Changes can occur up to and throughout the festival.”

Everyone Benefits

The Amdocs Home Stay Program has really created some great opportunities for filmmakers and the festival staff alike. Filmmakers can often afford to stay longer than they might if they were having to purchase a hotel room, so they get to see more of the festival, interact with other filmmakers, and see more films. The festival is able to host many more filmmakers than they might have been able to invite. Having the filmmakers present and able to interact with audiences enriches the screening experience for everyone. Finally, the bonds created between host families and their guests often go far beyond the festival. Friendships are established, visits are planned, and lives are changed.

In one particular case, Elizabeth Press excitedly congratulated a Japanese filmmaker and shared that her family would be in Tokyo just two weeks later for her and her husband’s  50th wedding anniversary.  Filmmaker Naomi ended up meeting them at their hotel, then reserved two cabs to take the Presses to a shrine/ park to view three authentic Japanese weddings!  The next morning, Ms. Press found a surprise box from the filmmaker at the concierge desk. It contained a traditional Japanese kimono! That was three years ago. The Presses have continued to keep in regular contact with Filmmaker Naomi as she has moved on to other projects, earned awards, etc.

“It’s hard to believe that we started with only ten Home Stay Families the first year,” continued Debbi Hinton. “Now we have close to forty. And once they start, they tend to come back year after year. I once recruited a friend to be a host. She was VERY reluctant and only wanted a guest for a few days. She ended up hosting a wonderful filmmaker from Australia who actually stayed longer than originally planned, but my friend would not hear of having the filmmaker move to another home. They had really bonded, and actually became friends by the end of the experience. They still keep in touch, and that experience was a turning point for my friend who is now an eager host.”

Seeing the Bigger Picture, One Film At A Time.

Stories like the ones mentioned above abound, and Ted Grouya is not the least bit surprised. “This is exactly what we’d hoped would happen, both with AmDocs itself, as well as with the AmDocs Home Stay Program,” he says. “We want our audiences to gain an expanded perspective, and we want our Home Stay Families to develop lasting relationships with their guests – relationships that live on well beyond the festival. Friendships happen, diverse cultures find common ground, and people from very different parts of the world discover that their hopes and aspirations are not all that different.”

“Again, this is what we want,” Grouya continued. “We want our filmmakers to meet our residents, fall in love with them, then go and tell the world how great Palm Springs is, and how wonderful their American hosts were. There’s just no better way to build understanding, bring down barriers, and generally create awareness of the human experience throughout the world, using real stories about real people and dealing with real issues – just like the films we screen.”

The American Documentary Film Festival, powered by Renova Solar, is a Palm Springs Cultural Center Program.Renova Solar came in at a time when we were really needing a major sponsor who was committed to the same goals and principles that we are. We found that with Renova Solar,” said Grouya. “They have come through for us on so many levels. We could not have done what we’ve done in this short time without them, or our parent organization, the Palm Springs Cultural Center.”

Tickets to the AmDocs Opening Night Event and Early Bird Passes are available online now at:

or at the Camelot Theatres Box Office.

Tickets for all screenings, plus the complete schedule will be available after March 1st.