Asheville Film Festival likely to take hiatus, go private

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.”

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27 thoughts on “Asheville Film Festival likely to take hiatus, go private

  1. Jeff Fobes

    Three years ago, Mountain Xpress urged Asheville Parks and Rec Dept officials turn the city’s film festival over to a nonprofit because the city seemed unable to take the festival to the next level and was not successfully raising funds from the community.

    One suggestion we made was for the city to retain some control by having representatives serve on the nonprofit governing board.

    In November 2008, I and other Xpress staff met with city officials, including the city manager, and again suggested the festival be run by a nonprofit; we attempted to communicate some urgency at that time because the city was showing less interest and leadership in staging the event.

    I still think this idea should be explored, as it would allow for greater involvement from Asheville’s talented, experienced and active population.

    The revelations at today’s meeting came as a complete surprise to us at Xpress, including that the city wishes not to run the film festival any more, and that Parks and Rec has already found a private individual who wants to take the festival over and operated it on a for-profit basis.

    It seems to me that things are moving fast toward dissolution and dismemberment. Better first to give the people of Asheville a chance to mull on its options.

  2. Rebecca Sulock

    In the meeting, staff said this was not a done deal, but it looked likely to happen.

  3. Ken Hanke

    It looked pretty much like a done deal in all but word to me.

  4. Seems to me we need, at minimum, to issue an RFP on a matter like this. The Asheville Film Festival has been established as a brand with a proven track record. It has monetary value.

    It should not be handed off for free to the first person who shows up offering to take it off the city’s hands, IMHO.

    Why it might have looked “likely” to happen is a real mystery to me, given that Council approval is necessary and this is the first notice I’ve had of the matter.

  5. The Trolls Troll

    Cecil writes: “The Asheville Film Festival has been established as a brand with a proven track record. It has monetary value.

    “It should not be handed off for free to the first person who shows up offering to take it off the city’s hands, IMHO.”

    I do agree that careful deliberation must be given to this and every matter that goes before Council. But what is the Film Festival’s proven track record? What is its monetary value? It loses tens of thousands of dollars each year. Seems to me, given the dire economic times, the city would want to get the fest off its hands as quickly as possible.

  6. The Trolls Troll

    It also appears that Mr. Anton is a registered Republican. I’m sure the Council will reject his proposal based on this alone.

  7. Ken Hanke

    It also appears that Mr. Anton is a registered Republican

    May one ask how you discerned that?

  8. It also appears that Mr. Anton is a registered Republican. I’m sure the Council will reject his proposal based on this alone.

    If he’s a fiscal Republican, then maybe we should let him have it.

  9. Voter registration is a public record. For my part, partisan affiliation doesn’t matter in artistic or entertainment matters one whit.

    My questions about the plan revolve around what would be best for the City and our local film industry. I have no opinion about whether the proposal is a good one, only that it should be examined carefully.

    And I note that corporations that lose millions of dollars still have value and may sell for billions of dollars. What’s the nature of the City’s ownership of the festival? If this goes to a private entity, should the City get a cut on future profits? Should there be a sale price? Do we retain some ownership of the brand if the venture fails? Sundance, to pick the obvious and well-known success, is worth a lot of money to three cities in Utah. What kind of deal do those cities get? Food and beverage taxes? Sales taxes?

    Just asking.

  10. Jamie Cove

    Gosh, his movies look so bad. His first film got horrible ratings.
    Lost love stories with no originality or substance.
    I am afraid of what they will do with it.

  11. jw

    @ Jeff Fobes – Maybe there was no nonprofit to take the event? Regardless, Mr. Anton will do a great job. He is passionate about film, his ideas for the festival sound good, and it’s not like he’s not taking suggestions from those experienced with the festival. I think it’s about time a filmmaker, or someone who KNOWS about film, is running the show. I’ve volunteered at the festival for the past 3 years and I can tell you it was fun to see the movies but it was always a badly-planned and executed event.

    @ Jamie Cove – 1, You haven’t even seen his movies. 2, His first one won the audience favorite award at the Asheville Film Festival. 3, When’s the last time you wrote an original screenplay, got it produced and filmed and into a film festival?

  12. Gordon Smith

    For more information on the matter, I’m posting this email I received from the City Manager. I asked him whether my recollection of the PED Committee meeting was correct. This is what he wrote in response:

    “Yes, I understood the staff to recommend we get out of the business and, as a prelim step, reviewed the possibility with the PED committee.

    Your committee supported the general idea, said to get feedback from stakeholders and to then bring an action forward to Council for formal consideration.

    Parks and legal staff are researching how Council should act upon the policy recommendation, including whether trademark, logo, etc have value requiring rfp or other process steps.”

  13. 3, When’s the last time you wrote an original screenplay, got it produced and filmed and into a film festival?

    Just to play devil’s advocate, but that’s no guarantee that the movie is any good.

    A lot of good people expended a lot of time, energy, and their own money to try to make this festival a success. I think, to some, handing it over like this is like pulling the rug out from under them.

    Personally, I think the festival should be put out of its misery. There are too many bad connotations attached to it over the years. Make a new one with a different name and see how it goes.

    And NO lifetime achievement awards!!!

  14. jw

    But the audience loved it, which means they did SOMETHING right :)

    It doesn’t need to be put out of its misery. The City just failed in putting it on. What it needs is a new vision, direction, and execution. I love the Film Festival and will miss it this year but if it means an event we can REALLY be proud of, how is that bad?

  15. Film Goer

    Before Asheville gives up its film festival to the Antons, someone might want to check out their credentials. Many people move to Asheville wanting to show us how things should be done, especially in the arts-related fields.

    At Last (2005)
    Reviews Counted:5
    Fresh:0
    Rotten:5
    Average Rating:4.1/10

    Kerry Lengel
    The Arizona Republic
    Apr. 14, 2006 12:00 AM
    Young love, cruelly nipped in the bud, blooms anew in At Last, an independent film that sounds like a syrupy Hollywood soap opera, or worse, a Lifetime movie of the week.

    Perhaps because of its autobiographical nature – director Tom Anton and his co-writer wife, Sandi Russell, have adapted their own story for the screen – this second-chance romance doesn’t feel as sappy or contrived as the premise might suggest. For the most part, it’s a believable account of how two sympathetic characters finally find happiness.

    Unfortunately, it’s also tedious and utterly lacking in dramatic tension.

  16. Ken Hanke

    And NO lifetime achievement awards!!!

    I wouldn’t bet on that from the sound of things.

  17. jw

    Tom and Sandi Anton did NOT move here to “show us how it’s done”. They are passionate and skilled at what they do. No they did not pay me to say this, they don’t know I’m saying it. They are sincere, something I thought Asheville treasures!

  18. James Fisher

    Considering the extremely poor recent track record of the Asheville Parks & Rec Dept. with this festival, any unilateral decision from them on any potential future for AFF should be seriously questioned. Further, the role of our elected officials seems to be unclear. I do not know the Antons and they may be the perfect folks to “take over”. But who is making this decision, one that the taxpayers of Asheville have a big stake in? Is Ms. Ruggerio even authorized to do any of this? I suggest that City Council and/or other authorized City personnel look into this matter quickly.

  19. filmy

    The Asheville Film Festival should be kept around for sure, and it’s a great (under-utilized, mis-managed) asset. Definitely put some thought into who/what takes it over, there’s no rush. Not enough time this year for someone to step in and do it right anyhow by Sep./Oct. Instead, the city should put up the best small effort it can this year, and be looking to hand it off or partner up w/ someone for 2011 for expansion. I don’t even mind the Lifetime Achievement type stuff, b/c it’s a good ploy to get someone with a name to show up and accept something and it gives the publicity efforts an extra hook. It’s funny in a good way (Rance Howard got an AFF Lifer as a successful ploy to get Ron Howard here too!).

  20. Ken Hanke

    Tom and Sandi Anton did NOT move here to “show us how it’s done”.

    I understand that fear, though, because that is something we’ve all seen in the past.

    Let’s all step back from this thing for a moment. I may be the only person here who was actually at the Friday meeting, and I’m almost certainly the only one posting here whose active involvement with the festival goes back to the beginning in 2003. And here’s what I know — that we don’t know enough yet to really offer much of an opinion on this. I know what the problems have been with the festival and I know where 90% of those problems came from. Do the Antons have the answer and a better way? I don’t know. I have not heard enough specific information to really form an opinion that has any true weight.

    Do I have concerns? Yes, I do. I am not sold on the September date. I am not sold on a 10 day long festival. I have misgivings that before all is said and done this will involve large corporate theaters like Regal — and that is not something I want to see in the least. But I am waiting to get something more concrete than what was presented and my own misgivings.

  21. PappyCaligula

    Indie Grits is an independently run festival in of all places, Columbia, SC, happening each April and it is a huge success…The local gov’t gives its blessing, but stays pretty much the HECK out I.G’s hair..I think there is too much of an “entitlement mentality” in Asheville that is actually stifling what you all have and it is PAST time for the City to do what Cities do best..That is, do the boring stuff like police, fire, water, sewer. Leave the art to the artists, NOT some “Boo-Ra-Crat” who’s just here for 5 o’clock and a check.

    NO, try it as a private affair. If it doesn’t work, then it’s time to move on..Forcing a round peg into a square hole by socializing the event is a waste and an insult to everyone.

  22. Nicolas DeGrazia

    Have there been any new developments with this? We have been working on a film about Asheville local Jonas Gerard, an abstract artist. We were hoping to introduce the film at the 2010 film fest … will that need to be the 2011 film fest? If anyone has thoughts or comments, please contact me at bjc@bitterjester.com – thanks!

  23. Dwayne

    i’ve been to the Asheville film fest 3 times and i love the festival being held in november…gives me something to look foward to in november.

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