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Face to Face: A Conversation with Gregory von Hausch
The executive director of the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival talks about his organization and the competitive field of film fetivals.
Q. What role does a film festival have here, given all the other entertainment options?
A. We have a multi- and varied purpose. One is to promote independent films but basically we're the antithesis of what you see in your usual multiplex. We show film as a narrative art form. And we believe that it's not only a very valid one, but probably the most exciting and accessible of the art forms of narration, taking you around the world, cultures, showing new methods of presenting film and it all gets back to Shakespeare's saying, "The play's the thing."
All of these films have a heart in them. They are based on the human condition and the cultural differences between us.
Q. Can you give us an example of a film that attracted a following here but would not have been at the multiplex, and why it's different?
A. Casomai, which we did the U.S. premiere on. It's an Italian film. It's a film about relationships. Two people get married. They are very much in love and then they grow apart. But the way the story is told makes it so unique ... It's very much a love story but what happens is it takes place on their wedding day when they are still very much in love. And the priest gives the sermon and it goes into a `what if' scenario and he takes you all through the relationship from the early love to the church to the baby to the disintegration and falling apart and eventual divorce. And you're captivated by this because it moves so fast and amazingly... So it's a unique way of telling a tale that you may have heard before from a whole different perspective.
Q. And what kind of turnout do you get?
A. We had a house of 450 and it sold out three times. That was during the festival. Then we brought it back this summer and we played it about eight times so, basically, probably another 1,000 people during that time. And that's without a review and without advertising. It's all kind of word-of-mouth. And then people are asking for it again
Q. You have the Cinema Paradiso brand used to distribute films. How does that work?
A. A lot of times we would go around the world, we'd see movies and the foreign distributor would say, "Well I can't give you that movie because we're still working on a U.S. distributor for the film." Nine times out of 10, they would never find U.S. distribution. So these great films we saw in Berlin and Cannes and Montreal would never ever play here. So I put together this little company, this little arm of ours, and said, `Hey, rather than you never getting a U.S. audience, why don't you let us distribute them to other film festivals and other art houses around the United States? We'll take care of all the shipping; you won't have to worry about the marketing or negotiating.' And they said yes, so I have about a dozen films like that.
Q. And what do you get out of this?
A. We get to actually show the film, where in the years prior to this they would just die a death and we'd never seen them over here. We'd see these great films, we'd invest all this time trying to find them, and never be able to bring them over.
Q. What do you gain financially?
A. ... Most distributors work on a percentage fee. I'm trying to keep this sort of like a Wal-Mart, very clean cut. So if somebody books a film with us, we just charge them a flat $400 rental fee and we give 40 percent of that back to Rome and we keep 60 percent for ourselves. It's not a lot of money, but it's been adding up. It's a nice little cash flow from this.
Q. The arts are in some trouble. Where do you guys stand financially?
A. We're having our tough times, too. But we probably work harder for our money than most groups. We do over 500 events a year and There's something going on in here almost every night and running the film festival with over 300 screenings, we also do a weekly outdoor screening at Beach Place, a monthly outdoor screening at Huizenga Plaza, a quarterly outdoor screening at Weston Town Center, we've got a theater in the schools program, a free daily matinee for seniors So, we work so hard for this money that we get that our earned income is probably higher than most of the other ones
Q. What's the history of the Cinema Paradiso, the building?
A. It was built as a church and somewhere in the late 1960s the county took it over and made it sort of a depot for the courthouse, records were kept here, contraband [In the 1980s] the county spent a lot of money [to make it a performing arts theater] ... For a multitude of reasons it never really got off the ground the county approached us to come in so we transformed the place again ... We've made it into really a show palace for cinema. We also have concerts in here, theatrical plays, corporate meetings, workshops for students. It's used in oh so many ways. We make it very accessible. We have local filmmaker nights We developed a system where they don't have to pay anything. They can come here and show their films, talk to their audiences and we just charge $3 a head and it makes it very accessible and no one has to shell out a lot of money.
Q. What kind of an economic impact does the film festival have?
A. What I hear from Broward cultural affairs is that it's something like for every $1 invested, we bring in an additional 5.2 dollars from outside Broward County into the county coffers. That's from people that fly in and stay in hotels, the people that do catering, bringing in new foundation grants from Kodak or the Academy Awards. We are the only film festival in the south to be awarded twice by the Academy Awards with major grants, so that's over $50,000 there in one lump ... We estimated last year we had over 2,000 hotel room nights and that's great because those people come in and stay in the hotels and they also have to eat in restaurants and they go shopping in the stores and they buy supplies
Q. What is your total budget?
A. Our cash budget is just at $1 million and our in-kind budget is almost the same amount, about $900,000.
Q. Where does your cash budget come from?
A. Well, there is the earned income, tickets, memberships, that kind of thing That's about a quarter of the budget, about $260,000, of that is the earned income. Then there are grants and foundations, probably make up about $400,000
Q. Any state money?
A. Yes, not as much as we did last year We're the highest-rated film festival in the cultural institutions program. We were supposed to get $50,000 a year for three years. It's ironic this past year our scores went up, but because more people were asking for funds we actually got $43,000 a year Well, with this new thing [the state said] we're taking 50 percent away of the funding from everybody When the figure came down, it was $19,000 [because the state took out more for administrative costs] So we're getting less than 50 percent of what we were [originally] awarded. In the meantime, the economy has hurt everybody and we understand that. We've lost sponsors that have been with us for years We think that we're probably about $120,000 shy of where we were this time last year
Q. How do you make up that gap?
A. We're pretty conservative. We haven't cut our programs at all. We've let some people go. We've cut back on frills and printing
Q. There's been some controversy and scrutiny of the relationship between the film festival and Florida Atlantic University's DeSantis Center. What is the DeSantis Center's contribution to the festival?
A. They are a partner of ours. They fund programs of ours. They have underwritten our press receptions at Los Angeles and Toronto [film festivals]. They did one for us at the Cannes Film Festival, which is the one that's gotten all the hullabaloo. They also underwrite our catalogs for our seminars. They host a motion picture industry leader-of-the-year award luncheon. They buy an ad in our catalog. So, if I were to total up all those things basically it's about $11,000 a year for those events. They are [also] members of our board of directors, two of them, so the membership dues from them is $500 apiece
Q. What's the purpose of the press reception? Is it a worthwhile expenditure?
A. We're not unlike the Toronto Film Festival, or Montreal, they all do these things. We don't come from a city like a Chicago, a Denver, a San Franciso, New York, Toronto, where they have instant name recognition When I started going to these film festivals, we'd say we're from Fort Lauderdale and no one from Europe knew where that was. So we started in 1991 creating a name for us, and distinction. And I have to say, over those 12 years, we've probably gotten known more internationally than any film festival, certainly among those of our size and any film festival in Florida. We have more of an image than those, because we go out there and create hype about us
Q. What's the role of hype?
A. We're in competition with every other film festival. Some of these films only have one print. If a filmmaker has never heard of your festival, about the respect your festival has, then they're going to think twice about where they send their film. Right during the same period of our film festival, we have Denver, Mill Valley, Hawaii, San Juan, London If you only have one print and eight to 10 film festivals happening, you have to make a decision about where your film is going to go. So not only do we want them to know about us ahead of time, we want a reputation; but they also want to know who comes to your festival, what press comes, what distributors come, how will I be treated, what will I expect at my screenings. This is their child, this film, and they want to know that it's going to be handled right
Q. With schools cutting back on time allotted for the arts, what's the future for different cultural programs here?
A. I'm always optimistic in that whenever anyone is oppressed, and the artist can always feel oppressed easily, that they rise above it and that some of the greatest art comes from that If I have anything to say here, it's that we have a little treasure here and unlike some of the other cultural treasures here that are paid for by the county or through big checks written by people, we're nickel-and-diming this. This is a real grass-roots approach I hope the community recognizes that what we have here is something for the community and I hope the community comes to our aid now.
The arts scene has seen its share of fianncial woes in the past year, but the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival is a survivor. The 18th annual edition of the festival, which runs from Oct. 17 to Nov. 16, lists 175 independent films, including full-length features, documentaries and shorts. Executive Director Gregory von Hausch also points out the festival's other ventures mean independent film screenings are now a year-round effort.