The Asheville Film Festival likely won’t happen this year, as a local filmmaker is floating a proposal to take over the festival and run it as a private operation.
In previous years, the city’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts department has operated the festival, which has lost money six of its seven years of operation, says Diane Ruggiero, superintendent of cultural arts.
Now local filmmaker and New Orleans transplant Tom Anton and his wife Sandi Russell are asking City Council to let them take over the festival. The city wouldn’t be involved, organizationally or financially.
“I’m an optimist by nature, and I see so much potential here,” Anton told a room of about a dozen “stakeholders,” invited by the city to offer feedback on the proposal.
Anton’s ideas, which are still in the works, include:
– Turning the 4-day festival into a 10-day festival,
– Moving the festival’s dates from November to September,
– Collaborating with local hotels and restaurants, including the Biltmore and Grove Park Inn, and
– Making the festival into a destination experience for filmmakers and film-goers.
“We want to meet with everyone who’s been involved with the festival, to hear what’s worked and what hasn’t worked,” Anton said.
Anton has already talked to Asheville City Council and members of the Chamber of Commerce about his proposal to run the festival. He is also the writer/producer/director for the films, At Last and The Pardon.
“When people submit a film they should be like, ‘I hope my film gets into Asheville,” said Anton, a film-festival veteran. “That’s my vision.”
Anton said he’s already talked to local hotels, restaurants and business owners about getting involved with the festival, which looks to return in 2011.
“That will give me a lot of time to get out there and promote, and make it a big event,” Anton said.
He’d like to get more involvement from national sponsors and companies, such as Fox Searchlight, Music Box, HBO and Showtime, he said. He’s developed contacts in particular from the Stony Brook Film Festival.
“All the contacts I’ve got in the industry, bring those people in,” Anton said.
Those at the meeting voiced support for Anton’s plan, with some concerns. One that was discussed was the American Film Market does not take place until after September, making it hard to secure big-ticket movies like Slumdog Millionaire (shown at the 2008 Asheville Film Festival).
Also, some business owners said they like the idea of the festival taking place in September, because that would help with tourism; others said they prefer the traditional November dates for the festival, because that helps extend tourism into the year.
The next step will be for the cultural arts staff to take the meeting ideas back to City Council. But the plan seems to be on track.
“We have nothing to lose in this situation,” said Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts director Roderick Simmons. “I don’t see any downside.”