Wade on Birmingham

Sidewalk shuffle 2



The path isn’t clear.

Board president Alan Hunter talked today about changes behind the scenes at Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival. Last week’s sudden departure of co-founder and director Erik Jambor has raised questions about the status and future of the downtown film festival.

In addition, Hunter announced next week’s Sidewalk Salon will be an open discussion with board members about questions, concerns and suggestions from the public.

Updated with new time for Salon.

Hunter said the festival needs more solid financial footing, rather than having to scramble each year for sponsor dollars. The board hired fund-raising experts to that end earlier this year.

Financial footing

The 2006 festival lost money, but not a significant amount, according to both Hunter and Jambor. Hunter cited cost factors such as covering lodging and meal costs for more visiting filmmakers and an unchanging attendance figure of around 15,000.

Both also said that while the thrice-yearly Scramble filmmaking competition pays for itself, the monthly Cinematheque screenings have lost money. Birmingham Shout, a gay/lesbian film festival that debuted this spring, also broke even.

The board discussed the festival’s finances for at least a year, although Hunter said the board typically meets once a quarter. He expects board members — a mix of community leaders in business and movies — will put in more hours as they cover regular festival duties (such as putting out the call for entries for 2007) while shaping a plan for hiring and fund-raising.

Hunter said he’d like to have three to four full-time positions: executive director, artistic director, business manager and administrative assistant. But he wasn’t sure if the festival at its current size could fund that many positions, or that it could grow in attendance and budget to justify a staff expansion.

This year, the festival received public funds from Jefferson County through the Cultural Alliance of Greater Birmingham, but none from the city of Birmingham or the state. The overall goal has been to wean the festival from taxpayer dollars and find more corporate sponsors willing to spend much more.

As the festival has grown in national reputation, it has been somewhat easier attracting corporate sponsors.

Out the door

Meanwhile, he admitted that the board was surprised by Jambor’s decision to resign and by the subsequent online response. He praised Jambor’s artistic direction in programming Sidewalk and his personal touch with the film community, but said the board had to act to ensure the business end wouldn’t be neglected.

Hunter said that the board doesn’t want to rush the hiring of an executive director but would like to find someone within three months. He wasn’t sure how 2007 festival programming would be handled, but suggested volunteer screening committees and guest programmers as a possible, but temporary, solution. Local filmmakers and films would remain a big part of the overall program.

Last week, the board also fired Kelly Marshall, who had provided public relations services on a mostly volunteer basis for many years. Hunter wouldn’t discuss specifics on her dismissal; instead, he said that he hoped an ad agency or PR firm would take on the festival pro bono for a year, despite a few problems with agency work before.

Catherine Pfitzer remained in place as program manager, and Keri Lane Hontzas remained as a contracted festival producer.

Hunter said that the board still faces big decisions on administrative structure and fund-raising. The board’s initial proposal isn’t unique: He pointed out that other film festivals, such as Atlanta and Nashville, already have similar personnel and organization in running their daily operations.

But he said attendees and filmmakers shouldn’t notice a significant change in the festival experience next year. He said volunteers deserved more praise and more communication from the festival. And he welcomed Jambor’s help — and anyone else’s.

Sidewalk’s shakeup has effectively sent two longtime organizers to the curb. For now, the festival’s board hasn’t stopped shaking.

The monthly Salon will take place at its usual location, Rojo, 2921 Highland Ave. S., Southside, at 6:30 p.m. Monday. Admission is free.

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Action! Complete Sidewalk 2006 coverage.

6 Yips for “Sidewalk shuffle 2”

  1. Shadowhelm
    Wednesday, December 6, 2006, 7:25 am

    I am really interested in knowing where this information originated. Is this an interview you conducted or was it published somewhere else? I am very interested in what is going on and am planning on attending the meeting Monday.

  2. Wade
    Wednesday, December 6, 2006, 7:56 am

    I interviewed him, just as I interviewed Erik Jambor for the previous story. (Site policy: I don’t run other people’s material without credit, and only brief excerpts.)

  3. Shadowhelm
    Wednesday, December 6, 2006, 10:12 am

    I thought that was probably the case. Thanks for the update.

  4. Dre’s Ramblings
    Wednesday, December 6, 2006, 4:00 pm

    […] Wade Kwon has interviewed Sidewalk board president Alan Hunter (posting the interview on his blog) and has information on the open forum that will now take place at the next Sidewalk Salon (this coming Monday, December 11, beginning at 7 p.m. @ Rojo). […]

  5. BJ
    Wednesday, December 6, 2006, 5:38 pm

    Hope Rojo plans on having more than the one usual Salon bartender on hand…

  6. Wade on Birmingham
    Friday, December 15, 2006, 12:33 am

    Heads and tales: Echo chamber

    headlines for 12/15/06

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