Alum Supports Hands-On Learning Experiences Through Humboldt International Film Festival

Oct, 2023
A photo of David Phillips

Editor's note: This story was updated on Nov. 3, 2023. 

As a Cal Poly Humboldt student studying theater and film, David Phillips (‘69, Theatre Arts), along with his late friend Don McKenzie (‘69, Theatre, Film & Dance), were cinematographers and editors of The Harriers, a film about Cal Poly Humboldt’s Cross Country team, and made films about topics like New York Senator Robert Kennedy’s 1968 visit to Humboldt County. Together, they co-founded the Humboldt International Film Festival, now the world’s oldest student-run film festival.

To honor Don’s memory and to continue supporting the Humboldt International Film Festival, David created the David Phillips and Don McKenzie Humboldt International Film Festival Endowment with a gift of $54,600. The endowment will support the basic needs and operations to keep the film festival alive and includes funding for securing judges, guest speakers, promotions, and more.

“Don and I, at the time, thought these student films we and other students were making had to be seen. Now, 55 years later, I’m thrilled that the Humboldt International Film Festival is still going strong today. Still, it dawned on me that I needed to continue to support this program financially so more students can have the real, hands-on experience of having their films screened in a public setting with a live audience reaction to their artwork,” David says.

As a young boy, David was always fascinated by cameras and photography. Photography was like a magic show to him, making images come to life from a camera to a piece of paper using a special liquid. So when Film became a major at Cal Poly Humboldt in the 1960s, David took a chance at making more images come to life. He is now a film aficionado.

After attending Humboldt, David received his master’s degree in Film from the University of Southern California. He worked on various film crews in Los Angeles before returning to Humboldt County, where he bought and ran many movie theaters, including the iconic Minor Theatre.

David’s favorite memory of being a Humboldt film student was working with his best friend, Don, on their films, specifically when Don would appear in the background of all the films they made together. He says Don would appear at least once in the background of their films, even unintentionally.

“He was shy in one sense but assertive in a way that got things done. It was his idea to shoot the Kennedy film. He said, ‘Dave, Robert Kennedy is going to be here, and we need to take this opportunity to film it,’ and we would always make these films on a whim,” David says.

Throughout his life, Dave says Don continued to support the Humboldt International Film Festival and was proud of what it had turned out to be, especially since it is now a course requirement for Film majors. Since its inception, the Humboldt International Film Festival has expanded to feature four days of public screenings, workshops, and presentations by guest judges from the film industry each spring.

David is also proud and excited about what the film festival offers to students and viewers alike. He believes filmmaking is a unique expression and that students are best at making films.

“I love filmmakers—they have unique minds, but student films are especially unique. Student films are filled with new ideas and creative ways of looking at things outside the norm of other filmmakers because they're students. They see things differently, and they communicate new filmmaking ideas differently because they’re not bound by too many rules—they don’t know what rules to break, and complete with all their flaws, it’s thrilling,” David says.

Join donors like David Phillips in supporting Humboldt students’ hands-on learning and enhancing the academic experience through the Boldly Rising campaign. Contact the Cal Poly Humboldt Foundation at or (707) 826-5200.

Photo: David Philips established the David Phillips and Don McKenzie Humboldt International Film Festival Endowment with a gift of $54,600 to honor Don McKenzie's memory and to continue supporting the Humboldt International Film Festival.