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EXCLUSIVE: Executive director Chloe Collins discusses Sidewalk films, finances


Chloe Collins, executive director, Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival, Birmingham, Alabama

An outsider takes the reins at downtown festival

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The first executive director was a co-founder, serving for eight years. The second rose through the ranks, serving for two years.

The third started Friday.

[Wade on Birmingham:
EXCLUSIVE: Sidewalk hires Chloe Collins as Executive Director

Chloe Collins has pored over the budget, fielded dozens of congratulatory e-mails and met with board members and volunteers alike. In taking the reins of the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival, she inherits a 10-year-old film festival with a nearly $10,000 budget shortfall and less than five months until show time.

“The biggest challenge I can see is just getting my arms around what all is involved,” Collins says. “As I learn more, I’m realizing there are lots of people who play such an important role with the festival, and those people haven’t gone away.”

In this exclusive interview, Collins discusses what’s ahead for the festival and how she went from casual moviegoer to executive director. She talked with us in person last week.

By the numbers

She said she plans on reviewing the books for the first two weeks to get up to speed on the festival’s finances. The numbers could be the biggest challenge this year in a sputtering economy.

In the two most recent years on record, Sidewalk’s official nonprofit organization, the Alabama Moving Image Association reported losses: $9,859 in 2007, $29,974 in 2006.

In 2005, the organization came out slightly ahead with a profit of $384.

The budget has grown from around $250,000 to more than $300,000.

[Alabama Moving Image Association,
Form 990, PDF: 2007 | 2006 | 2005]

“Do I have a grand plan to make sure (we’re not in the red)? Not yet,” she says. “I don’t know where we can trim the fat, and I don’t know if there’s any fat to trim.”

The goals, which Collins says were set by the board before her arrival, are to put on the festival in the “most professional manner possible” and to secure proper funding.

Growth potential

Collins sees opportunity in broadening sponsorship opportunities. Though she says she hasn’t yet reviewed the list of “asks” for donors and sponsors, she thinks video channel Hulu.com sponsors such as pharmaceutical companies could be interested in reaching a festival audience.

She also mentioned going after over-the-mountain residents, young professionals and film fans from nearby Alabama cities to build festival attendance, stressing that deep knowledge of movies and moviemaking isn’t required.

Sidewalk has already made two significant changes to fund-raising within the last year. The annual festival took on a title sponsor for the first time in 2008. And the board hired Melissa Kendrick as part-time development director for a 12-month stint.

Kendrick plans to revive a funding source untapped in the last few years: asking the City of Birmingham for money.

Meanwhile, the executive director salary has jumped significantly. Collins makes $50,000 a year, while her predecessors made $39,755 (Catherine Pfitzer in 2007) and $28,954 and $24,683 (Erik Jambor in 2006 and 2005 respectively).

A new arena

Collins applied for the position after repeated prodding from her fellow Kiwanis officer Gail Vaughan, who has done accounting work for Sidewalk.

The 30-year-old Anniston native once considered becoming a lawyer while attending Auburn University, but ended up earning degree in communications. Collins worked previously at Enjoy the City, WilbanksElam and the Birmingham Music Cooperative.

And while she brings experience in marketing and working with Birmingham-area nonprofit organizations, she wasn’t entirely sure about applying to run a film festival.

“What I initially thought was that I didn’t have the street cred they were looking for,” says Collins about her lack of a film industry background.

“I’ve done all of the things that the job is going to entail, from public relations and marketing, to donor development, volunteer management and putting on events.”

But she makes it clear that she has a learning curve ahead when it comes to Sidewalk. “Work-wise, if I have a fatal flaw, it’s liking to know more than is necessary to do the job. So I’ll probably watch a lot and ask a lot of questions.”

An outsider’s perspective

Collins says she hasn’t attended the annual festival since 2006, coinciding with the arrival of her daughter Clea, age 2 1/2. She first attended in 2003 with her husband Nathan, after receiving free tickets to opening night from a friend and walking to the Alabama Theatre from her office.

And while she has attended other Sidewalk screenings during the year, she hasn’t made it to the organization’s other event, such as the monthly Salon, the Shout gay/lesbian film festival and the Scramble competitions. Nor has she been to other film festivals other than Sidewalk.

Collins says she’s partial to documentaries at the festival. “Dora the Explorer,” “American Beauty” and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” stand out among her DVDs at home. She has a Wii, but her true love is HBO.

And like many parents of infants, she struggled to remember the last movie she saw in a theater (“Four Christmases” last Thanksgiving).

She says bringing an outsider’s perspective can be a good addition “if (our project coordinator) wants to hear what I think about the opening night show, what’s going to get normal people out to the show, because it might not necessarily be what people on the inside of Sidewalk think.”

“Maybe I’m normal and can give that perspective,” she adds with a laugh.

[Wade on Birmingham:
Teaser: A vision for the Sidewalk film festival

“Eventually, everybody wants to grow the festival,” Collins says. “I don’t know if they expect me to grow the festival by leaps and bounds in the next five months.

“We’ll do the same festival that we did last year, and hopefully do it better.”

• • •

More Sidewalk coverage.

4 Yips for “EXCLUSIVE: Executive director Chloe Collins discusses Sidewalk films, finances”

  1. Zackery Moore
    Monday, April 27, 2009, 7:46 pm

    Wow. Sidewalk is in debt?!?!?!


  2. Wade on Birmingham » Blog Archive » EXCLUSIVE: Sidewalk hires Chloe Collins as Executive Director
    Monday, April 27, 2009, 11:03 pm

    […] Content Also see:Teaser: A vision for the Sidewalk film festivalSidewalk Moving Picture FestivalEXCLUSIVE: Executive director Chloe Collins discusses Sidewalk films, financesEXCLUSIVE: Sidewalk loses second director in two yearsEXCLUSIVE: Sidewalk starts […]

  3. Josh Self
    Monday, April 27, 2009, 11:49 pm

    Great interview Wade. I haven’t met Chloe yet but if she’s reading, I want to welcome her to Sidewalk. I think its going to be a good reboot and hopefully she can see things that we couldn’t see to bring more success to the festival! Go Sidewalk!

  4. Wade
    Tuesday, April 28, 2009, 6:43 am

    Zack: Yes, in 2007 and 2006, AMIA had losses. Not sure about 2008, since that was not available yet. It doesn’t seem to be an insurmountable debt, but it’s been a tough year so far for many nonprofits.

    Josh: Thanks! Let’s hope the festival grows each year.

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