Film festival organizers look to erase deficit with addition of Sundance director
By Sherri C. Ranta
Organizers are looking to the future as Miami International Film Festival enters its 20th year with a new director from Sundance and a vision to become a world-class event.
Nicole Guillemet, former co-director of the Sundance Film Festival who joined the Miami festival in July, is expected to bring the expertise organizers say will lift the festival to the next level.
"Nicole's experience and leadership will make all the difference in the world. This is a 20-year-old event. It's coming of age," said Dale Webb, vice president for external relations, Florida International University, the festival's parent organization.
"She's been with a major festival, Sundance, from the very beginning. She certainly understands what a festival goes through and how to grow a festival. I think that's very important for us. She's been there," Ms. Webb said.
FIU came under fire after changes were made for the 2002 festival. Screenings increased and venues were added, Ms. Webb said, but ticket sales fell, resulting in a $220,000 deficit.
"We made a lot of changes this past year," she said. "The membership vs. the pass ticket system was one. Having multiple screening venues was another."
"There were a lot of changes for members who were accustomed to having the festival a certain way," Ms. Webb said. "I don't think we executed the changes particularly well."
The deficit, she said, was a result of ticket changes. In years past, loyal moviegoers joined the festival's support society - the FIU Cinema Society - and received discounts on ticket sales. Organizers eliminated the 2002 membership drive, Ms. Webb said. Plans are to go back to the membership system for 2003.
Organizers are already working for the next festival scheduled for Feb. 21 through March 2. Plans are to keep Gusman Center for Performing Arts in downtown Miami as the center of the event, Ms. Webb said, with additional venues, perhaps on South Miami Beach.
Despite the deficit and bad press, Ms. Webb said FIU has a history of being able to manage the festival and its finances. In 1999, FIU took over the festival and its accompanying $100,000 deficit from the Miami Film Society.
"We paid it off three years earlier than planned," she said.
Organizers are also wooing sponsors for next year's festival. About a third of the almost $1 million budget is supported by ticket sales, a third by sponsors and a third by county and state grants.
FIU gives the festival about $150,000, Ms. Webb said, and there are no plans to increase that amount.
Negotiations with private sponsors are under way, she said. FedEx is already on board because of a multiyear contract.
"They're all very supportive and excited. Nicole is meeting with them."
Past sponsors included United Airlines, Movado, BMW, Burdines and First Union.
Hiring a director with ties to world-class Sundance will bring a new level of experience and expertise to the Miami event, Ms. Webb said. More promotion outside the Miami market is planned. Major international film festivals attract a lot of press, she said, and bring thousands of people to a city.
"We weren't attracting the star power that we felt gives the buzz about film festivals. We felt that Nicole could bring that to the festival," Ms. Webb said. "She has the relationships and the knowledge. That was something we felt needed to be addressed when we took over. People plan international press junkets around particular films."
Ms. Guillemet also served as vice president of the Sundance Institute, the parent of the Park City, Utah film festival, with broad responsibilities for oversight and operation of the Institute's diverse programs. She is a graduate of the University of Utah and Universite de Grenoble in France.