Reel Fest cancels 2008 event after mounting financial woes

Organization’s future uncertain

The Reel Fest has been canceled for 2008 and organization officials say the event’s future is uncertain. In the interim a partnership has been formed with the Center for the Arts to provide alternative programming under the Reel Fest name.



The board of directors for the Reel Fest recently announced they would no longer be hosting the annual event in light of mounting challenges with funding, retaining staff, soliciting volunteers, and obtaining and retaining board members.
The traditional five-day competitive short film festival held in August began 10 years ago as a Center for the Arts program and eventually broke off and became an independent 501c(3) nonprofit.
"We were finding it more and more difficult to keep afloat financially, and in keeping an active, local board," says Reel Fest board president Kim Goodrich of the decision to forgo this summer’s festival. "Many of us began to feel that short film festival may have run its course in this town."
Although the Reel Fest will continue its nonprofit status, the organization has released its staff, no longer rents office space, and has suspended its website and phone service.
"We are not legally dissolving—the Center of the Arts will take over the name and run a few programs as they see fit, using the name in hopes that in time a Film Guild can be developed, or a festival revived," Goodrich says.
Pat Crow, one of the event’s co-founders and the director of the Center for the Arts, says the Reel Fest is going into hibernation until it can be revived or reinvented. "It simply ran out of steam," Crow says of the event.
Goodrich says the event’s future is uncertain and it will require "energetic parties to resurrect it." The board anticipates reviewing the contract with the Center in a year’s time to assess its next move.
"Had the Center not offered to take the name and keep it alive, it would not currently be so. Pat was integral in making sure the name would still exist in some way until we could further assess the status of the festival," Goodrich adds.
According to former board member and Reel Fest co-founder Bob Nowotny, the event was among the first dedicated to the short films format that offered cash prizes. Nowotny says the event often screened Academy Award-winning films, offered video production workshops for the community, attracted acclaimed filmmakers and hosted information panels. It also included an awards ceremony.
Crow says Reel Fest was extremely labor-intensive and it became increasingly difficult to find volunteers. Reel Fest would receive up to 300 submissions; each of which had to be judged by a volunteer panel. As volunteer participation waned, so did attendance, and in 2007 the event recorded some of its lowest numbers.
Crow says the timing of Reel Fest may have led to its demise. During years when the weather was poor, attendance at the event increased, and when the weather was good, attendance dropped.
"The agreement with the Center is a way for the (Reel Fest) to buy some time, until they can figure things out," Crow says.
Funding sources, including grants, are hard to come by, especially in light of the number of film festivals now operating, Crow says. "Every town has a film festival," she adds.
Despite the problems plaguing the event, board member Bill Ronai is optimistic about the event returning in the future. "My hope is that at some point in the future there will be enough community support for the Reel Fest to come back," Ronai says.
Rather than leaving the town completely without such an event, Nowotny has proposed the Center for the Arts host a two-day invitational film festival in late 2008 to replace the traditional Reel Fest. Nowotny says the new format would be less labor-intensive and still provide the community with the opportunity to view films that otherwise would not be shown in town.
Nowotny says invitational-only formats have proven to be very successful in other small towns similar to Crested Butte. The Center would solely fund the event and help with the logistics. The date of the event has not yet been determined.
"It should be stressed that the Reel Fest was originally under the auspices of the Center, so in a way, we are simply going back to our roots," Nowotny says.
A panel would choose the films and invite creators to attend the festival. An audience favorite award would still be given to participants, and the event would be marketed as premier event, Nowotny says.
In addition to the new film festival format, the Center is also developing film programming that will use the Reel Fest name. The first such event is the "Best of Reel Fest," on Friday, February 1. Additional screenings will consist of one-night showings of specially selected films that range from documentaries to foreign productions to cutting-edge independent projects.
The Center hopes to start a film society to help generate programming ideas and keep the community aware of the Reel Fest name. Crow says the society would be similar to a book club, but with film and would be held at individuals’ homes. The society may also help with the planning of the new invitational film festival.
Those interested in joining the society or those who have suggestions or comments for new programming may contact the Center for the Arts at (970) 349-7487. 

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