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On the current SLIFF selection committee, two members possess undisputed "professional" status: Kathy Corley, independent filmmaker and Webster University professor of film and video; and Roberta "Bobbie" Lautenschlager, a screenwriter and producer who directs the fest's New Filmmakers Forum program. But the film backgrounds of the others are less substantial: In addition to former Redel's restaurant manager Clark and SLIFF office manager Bresher, there are SLIFF board members Janet Herrmann, who works as a bookkeeper, and Delcia Corlew, a former executive director of SLIFF who, before becoming part of the festival, ran her own modeling agency. All have worked for the fest in differing capacities (staff, volunteer, board member), but none can be described as a film professional.
RFT film critic and St. Louis Community College-Meramec professor Diane Carson has worked with the film festival in an advisory capacity for several years. She cautions against putting too much stake in expertise. Of the current selection committee, she says, overall, "Their instincts are good." She notes that festivals can be ruined by people "with great film backgrounds, because of their eccentricities and idiosyncracies." She finds Clark "extremely personable and well organized."
New executive director Marvin makes no claims to a knowledge of the film industry. Before her appointment to SLIFF, she was director of the beleaguered City Living Foundation, a nonprofit organization given more than a quarter-million dollars by the St. Louis Board of Alderman back in May 1998 to begin a campaign to encourage people to move to the city. No campaign has yet emerged. (In alluding to City Living's reputation, Marvin says, "That's why I'm not there.") Before that, she was executive director of the Jefferson County Community Partnership and Caring Communities, an organization that coordinates social-service agencies throughout the county.
As for her experience in dealing with the film industry, she frankly admits, "I don't have a lot of expertise in that area." What she does bring to the organization, she believes, is "the knowledge and insight into development with startup not-for-profits, fundraising background, ability to put a lot of things in place that new organizations need as far as personnel policies and structures, insurance plans -- the things that usually are not in place at the very beginning."
In regard to personnel policies, she defends Clark's hiring but won't discuss Hutti's forced resignation. The decision was not budgetary, she insists, not a strategic salary-trimming made in order to hire the development director. "That was already in the budget for this fiscal year."
SLIFF board chairman Larry DeVuono chooses not to discuss Hutti's resignation, either, but says he feels positive about the impact Marvin and Clark can make on the organization and is encouraged about the festival's direction. "We decided that we would get someone in who is a professional manager and whose skills were in managing and organization. We felt that we had strong competency in the film process because of the people involved in the committees and so forth. And Chris has been involved in the organization for a number of years and has had a lot of input into the film selection and film exhibition. Acquiring the films and making those communications is a relationship thing. Christine has been there for some time. With Janet Herrmann available to us and Bobbie and Delcia, I'm very comfortable and really excited with that whole team down there. We've got a great, great crew, and we're going to be able to get a lot more done on a year-round basis to have a continuous offering of product, in addition to a great festival this year. I have never felt better. It's tremendous. There's a lot of good, positive things going on."
Hutti, not surprisingly, isn't encouraged by the changes at SLIFF. Marvin, Hutti claims, "asked me in her first week what the difference between film and videotape was."
Currently the film critic for KSDK (Channel 5), Hutti says of her position with the film festival, "I was asked to resign. It wasn't my idea." Her personal assessment of her tenure is undeniably subjective: "I'm very proud of what I was able to accomplish. I will put my programming up there, say, 'Take a look at it. What do you think?'" She also offers insight into the requirements for the job: "It was building relationships with these studios. It is a very slow and difficult process of building their confidence. The pitch was that we weren't New York and LA. Our audiences, though diverse, weren't influenced by having a lot of people working in the industry. We were a testing ground.
"It was a lot of research, a lot of my experience and knowledge. It was trying to feel out the studios and the distributors -- what was it they were looking for, and what could I pitch to them that would cause them to basically change their mind? Most of the times it was a no that I turned into a yes."
Hutti doesn't disapprove of the committee approach as strongly as Jones, but she does speak to its limitations: "Believe me, when you're working with committees that aren't familiar with the process, they can come up with tremendous titles, some of which are nearly impossible to get.