Don Mathes: Film series' demise

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I am writing to respond to Autumn Phillips' Feb. 21 story about the cancellation of the Friday Film Series.

One of the great films of all time, "Rashomon", showed us that "truth" is seen differently by people with different perspectives. My perspective is that of a member of the original Film Guild of the Friday Foreign Film Series who is saddened by the way that this great program has been mishandled.

The genesis of the series was a small group of Steamboat film lovers that had been gathering about once a month at each other's homes for dinner and to enjoy a great foreign film. At one such meeting in my living room, John Cookson raised the possibility that a film series such as the one we were having might benefit the larger Steamboat community. We all thought it a great idea and commissioned John to check out the possibilities, venues, costs, potential supporters, etc. Because a former President of the Steamboat Arts Council was among our group, and knowing that Bill Hamilton was a film buff and a member of the Arts Council Board of Directors, John approached Bill and explained our idea. What resulted was the Friday Foreign Film Series, a program of outstanding, prize-winning, classic foreign films shown free to the Steamboat community, in cooperation with the Steamboat Arts Council.

As Phillips reported, the Friday Foreign Film Series was an instant success. Every seat was filled for every show. The films we selected met strict criteria for greatness, for entertainment value, and for lasting interest -- foreign classics, in other words.

Then, in the third year, the Arts Council created a "film committee" which functioned independently of the original Film Guild. It also brought in some film educators to promote their classes, scheduled an evening of student films, wrote a revised mission statement, raised the monetary support level expected of Film Guild members by 50 percent, and didn't bother to ask the Film Guild for its input about any of these matters.

Our request for a meeting to discuss these changes went unanswered for a year, until September 2004, when the changes already were accomplished and the fall schedule already in place. The Arts Council co-opted the series, made it a part of its overall film program, changed its objectives, and effectively said to the Film Guild, "Take it or leave it."

Naturally, most of the Film Guild left it; so instead of an enthusiastic group of real film lovers to guide and support the Friday Film Series, it fell to the Arts Council to run it. And, from the article, it's clear that the Arts Council just wasn't up to it. But to suggest that there was no interest, or say that "no one stepped forward" to take ownership of the series is grossly misleading. The Film Guild owned it from the beginning, and it was taken from us by the Arts Council. Then it was canceled, destroyed by bureaucratic ego, in my opinion.

Perhaps Bill Hamilton's idea for a new film series will take hold and flourish. I hope so. We still need a regular diet of great foreign films in this community; and from the experience of our first couple of years at the Friday Foreign Film Series, I would expect it to win strong community support -- if bureaucratic egos stay out of the process.

Don Mathes

Steamboat Springs

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