August 2, 2010 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
‘Reel’ debt delays festival

Larry Guillemette of One In Ten, the non-profit group that organizes Reel Affirmations, said fundraising challenges forced the event to be rescheduled to April 2011. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

An inability to raise the money needed to hold D.C.’s annual LGBT film festival this October has spurred a decision to reschedule Reel Affirmations for spring 2011, according to organizers and sources familiar with the event.

The money problems also prompted organizers to reassess the time of year the event should be held, leading to a permanent rescheduling of the highly acclaimed event for late April and early May in succeeding years.

Larry Guillemette, marketing and sponsorship manager for One In Ten, the non-profit group that has organized Reel Affirmations each October for the past 19 years, acknowledged that a debt exceeding $40,000 from last year’s festival and a diminishing number of corporate sponsors and donors made it difficult to pull together the festival this year.

It had been scheduled to take place Oct. 14-23 in a number of prominent city theaters, including the Harmon Center for the Arts, the Goethe Institute and the E Street Cinema downtown, the Jewish Community Center near Dupont Circle and the AFI Theater in Silver Spring.

“As with a lot of non-profit organizations in our nation’s capital, gay or straight, we are faced with the same [monetary] challenges,” Guillemette said.

“What we found ourselves doing this year was going to various different organizations that we were hoping might sponsor us. And the economy being what it is, that kind of ability to support us wasn’t there,” he said.

Guillemete said One In Ten will screen three LGBT films this fall, including an award-winning film the group planned to announce soon. Beginning in November, One In Ten will resume a practice it previously discontinued: a monthly showing of an LGBT film in Washington at different theaters.

The group’s ability to hold the full festival in October was further hampered by last year’s resignation of Margaret Murray, who had served as One In Ten’s executive director since 2006, Guillemette said. He noted that it was Murray’s job to work on corporate and organizational sponsorships and other fundraising efforts for the 2010 festival beginning in the latter months of 2009.

“What that did for us on some levels is put us in a tiny bit of a period of flux and transition that we weren’t necessarily prepared for because that was the time of year that most festivals are putting together their proposals for funding for the following year,” he said.

Meanwhile, the group’s debt and general shortage of funds prevented the hiring of someone to replace Murray, who left to take a new job, he said.

At the time of Murray’s departure in November, Guillemette said, One In Ten had become nearly an all-volunteer organization, returning to its “roots” before its first executive director was hired in 2000.

Joe Bilancio, One In Ten’s programs manager and the person in charge of obtaining the films, is being compensated as a consultant, Guillemette said. Guillemette is serving as a volunteer and called his work on the festival “a labor of love.”

According to Guillemette, the funding problems were just one of several issues that prompted the One In Ten board to move the annual festival to the spring. He said other factors included competing LGBT events in October, such as the Human Rights Campaign’s annual national dinner and the Miss Adams Morgan drag pageant, a large event that attracts participants who might otherwise attend the film festival.

Guillemette said the problems associated with holding the festival this October led to long discussions on something the event’s organizers have contemplated for a number of years: the advantages of holding a film festival in the early months of the year.

Among other things, top-quality LGBT-related films made by independent filmmakers are usually released in the early part of the year and shown at other film festivals in the winter and spring, said Guillemette and Bilancio. The two noted that by the time One In Ten’s Reel Affirmations festival is held in the fall, some of the patrons of Reel Affirmations have already seen these films at other festivals.

In recent years, a number of films shown at Reel Affirmations and other LGBT film festivals also have been shown first on gay cable television networks, with others sometimes available through Netflix, said Guillemette and Bilancio.

“It’s significantly different than what it was when we started the festival in the early 1990s, when access to independent gay film was not that easy,” Guillemette said. “And we could count on a sold-out festival because there weren’t options like Neflix and Logo and Here TV and other things.”

Although moving the festival to the spring won’t counter the competing venues for gay film, Bilancio said holding Reel Affirmation in the early part of the year will at least ensure that it’s the first opportunity for most D.C. festival goers to see the films.

One source familiar with last year’s Reel Affirmations festival, who spoke with the Blade on condition of anonymity, said the One In Ten debt stemmed from a drop in revenue compared to previous festivals. Ticket sales were down as was advertising in the festival’s lengthy program booklet, the source said.

Instead of generating seed money for the 2010 festival, which was slated to celebrate Reel Affirmations’ 20th anniversary, the revenue shortfall resulted in debts to various vendors, including the graphic artist who helped produce the program booklet. At least $20,000 to $25,000 was needed to produce the booklet for this year, a sum the group apparently did not have, the source said.

Organizers were hopeful that a special town hall meeting that One In Ten held in April at the Human Rights Campaign headquarters would persuade people to make the donations that were needed to keep the event on track for October. But less than $5,000 was raised as a result of the town meeting, the source said, an amount far less than was needed to stage the festival in October.

Guillemette, who was not among the festival organizers last year, said still other factors were at play, including foul weather during several evenings of the October 2009 festival. He also noted that an earlier decision to discontinue the festival’s VIP membership program, which provided special benefits to large donors, made the festival more reliant on single ticket sales, which were down in 2009.

He said the board this year reinstated the VIP membership program and is taking other steps to better promote the spring festival.

“We’re not burying our head in the sand. We fully acknowledge there were things that needed to be changed in the way we did things,” he said. “And I think we brought back the right team to make those changes.”

Lisa King, One In Ten’s board president, declined to comment, deferring to Guillemette as the organization’s spokesperson. Murray could not be immediately reached for comment.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

5 Comments
  • Murray alienated most of the long-term volunteers with her top-down, uncommunicative management style. Movie-goers can’t get to the AFI theater and back into town on a weeknight, so they don’t go. And abandoning the Lincoln Theater (which gave VIPs certain rights and privileges, and gave OIT an extra couple hundred bucks of pure profit) alienated all the major donors. OIT has cancelled nearly all its programs in the past six years (art books, comedy fest, etc.). Now film festival. When will the OIT Board learn?

  • OIT has been behind the times for years. The deal cut with the new theater was stupid, foolish and par for the course by an organization so out of touch that it doesn’t realize that it is irrelevant.

    No one was going to their events during the year. I personally planned a fundraiser for them that was cancelled at the last minute for no good reason. It was foolish and shortsighted and alienated the very people who would support the festival. Now I can’t recommend support of OIT and the festival to any of my cleints.

  • According to its 2008 tax filing on Guidestar.org, OIT had reserves of $57,000 in February 2008. Murray was paid almost $65,000 a year. OIT did not hold its Spring Gala in 2010, which meant it did not earn the $30,000 it should have from that event. Lessee… $65k in savings plus $57k in reserves equals $122k. Minus $30k due to no Gala, minus (guessing) $30k for Bilancio’s contract means OIT should have had $62,000 in the bank. It did a fund-raiser earlier this year that raised an undisclosed amount of funds. But how can OIT have lost more than $100,000 on its 2009 festival? That’s outrageous. The organization has no other programming (no arts book drive, no comedy fest, no monthly film screenings) and it has no office rent (after moving to a free space near Gallery Place last year). What gives?

  • I agree that moving the festival from the Lincoln Theatre to multiple venues was a mistake. If OIT brings Reel Affirmnations back to the hood, the crowds will return.

  • The Lincoln Theater was in an important place and it set the right atmosphere, both outside and inside. I was terribly sad that they left it behind for a sterile arts center in a part of town with no meaning or significance. They stripped Reel Affirmations of everything that made it special, irreplaceable. How ironic to now bewail competition from Logo and Netflix.

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