Independent Film Festival gets on track
Reorganized film festival to return early next year

SideStory: DIFF hosts benefit screening of ‘The Battle of Algiers’


A film is projected through the display booth at the Gaslight Theater during last year’s Durango Film Festival. The newly reorganized Durango Independent Film Festival will hit Durango screens next year from March 1-5 and a fund-raiser screening of “The Battle of Algiers” to benefit the festival will be held next week at the Abbey Theater./Photo by Todd Newcomer. 

by Amy Maestas

Buoyed by support from local businesses and film lovers, Durango’s newly shaped film festival is rising above the sudden and somewhat dramatic demise of its forerunner. This week, classic film and politics will meet when the Durango Independent Film Festival hosts its first public fund-raiser. The reformed festival is scheduled to take place March 1-5 of next year.

The organizers of the Durango Independent Film Festival say they have comfortably separated themselves from the town’s original festival that became a popular draw over its five-year history. And they managed to do it without entangling themselves in legal fusses and without having to assume the financial debts of the prior Durango Film Festival.

“We’ve found so far that everyone who worked with DFF in the past is still willing to work with us, and they are allowing us to re-establish relationships with them,” says Michele Malach, a DIFF staff member and one of the original participants in the first festival.

Along with Malach, nearly 20 other DIFF staffers were also involved in the original festival. That festival recently hit the wall as the result of a messy few years and mounting debts. Earlier this year, Sofia van Surksum, DFF’s executive director, moved to Boulder and announced that the festival would need to take a one-year hiatus in order to get back on financial track. Van Surksum said the organization was in debt to several local businesses, many of whom were taking or threatening legal action. She said she could no longer inject her own money into the festival, which she had been doing for a few years to the tune of $150,000.

According to Malach, she and others involved with that festival were surprised when van Surksam made the announcement and acknowledged some debt.

“We still don’t know how much debt there is and to whom,” says Malach, who was not involved in 2005’s DFF event.

But for DIFF, there is only forward motion, she explains. Malach says the staff of the new festival is learning from the past and making decisions that will put it on a different path. For one, the festival is working to become a 501c3 nonprofit, which will allow organizers to secure various types of funding, including grants, and ensure financial accountability. Until getting that organization status, DIFF is working under the fiscal sponsorship of the Community Foundation Serving Southwest Colorado. Most independent film festivals, Malach adds, operate as nonprofits.

A movie reel sits on the bar at the Abbey Theatre. Despite the financial problems of its predecessor, the Durango Independent Film Festival will start out on fresh footing this year, with eventual nonprofit status for the five-day event./Photo by Todd Newcomer. 

But for DIFF, there is only forward motion, she explains. Malach says the staff of the new festival is learning from the past and making decisions that will put it on a different path. For one, the festival is working to become a 501c3 nonprofit, which will allow organizers to secure various types of funding, including grants, and ensure financial accountability. Until getting that organization status, DIFF is working under the fiscal sponsorship of the Community Foundation Serving Southwest Colorado. Most independent film festivals, Malach adds, operate as nonprofits.

DIFF organizers also vow to put on a more sustainable festival. The festival will be only half as long – five days instead of 10, there will be fewer films, and there will not be a paid staff until funding is secured. Currently, Malach says, event organizers are making decisions by committee. The makeup of DIFF’s Board of Directors eventually will change as the festival grows, with the intent of replacing original members with ones who have greater nonprofit and organizational experience. That will ensure “more focus, time and accountability,” she says.

“We will do only what we can afford to do,” says Malach. “We want to be fiscally responsible.”

However, the makeup of the new festival will not change the caliber of the films and filmmakers. Already,organizers have received more than 200 entries, spanning various genres and themes. Though still in the selection process, Malach is confident the final films screened will be high quality.

The former festival grew popular rapidly. In only a few years, it gained a reputation of being a “filmmaker’s festival,” which Malach says meant that the event concentrated on the craft, not being a vehicle for social events or landing distribution deals.

“We’re going to make sure that it does not become all about the marketplace or about the hype.”

Malach says DIFF has the fortune of drawing on the successes of other regional independent film festivals, such as those in Telluride, Taos and Santa Fe. Telluride, she explains, has put its festival on for 32 years and is a paragon for how to keep a festival lively and superior while remaining small.

Other noticeable changes at DIFF will entail fewer scheduled screenings, more question-and-answer sessions with the filmmakers, a broader involvement with area schools, including Fort Lewis College, and different social events. The Smiley Building will also be a new participating venue. These changes will also help DIFF achieve its goal of becoming a year-round community organization, with the intent of hosting film events periodically, not just during the festival’s five-day run.

With the community support and appreciation – both of the economic boost it gives and the offering of culture and entertainment – Malach says DIFF staffers are confident that the continuation of a local festival will succeed. •

 

 

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