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Oxford Film Fest seek’s city’s help

January 7, 2009

Oxford Film Fest seeks city’s help
(Reprinted from the Oxford Eagle)

1/7/09 – Oxford Film Fest seeks city’s help
Lucy Schultze
Senior Staff Writer

The Oxford Film Festival is struggling to roll out the red carpet for filmmakers and fans — just as its star is rising to garner more attention than ever before.

That was the message its volunteer organizers brought to City Hall Tuesday evening, seeking an additional $10,000 in emergency funding to bring their budget into the black before the four-day festival opens one month from today.

“The festival does add to tourism, but it’s also a community-enrichment event,” festival co-director Molly Fergusson told the Oxford Board of Aldermen.

“This year we have a lot of media people coming — Variety, The New York Times — and we really want to show them what Oxford has to offer.”

At the same time, though, the organizers have had to scale back the festival’s budget, canceling special events that had been planned around the Square to save money.

The festival is also bearing additional new costs like insurance. It became an independent nonprofit entity last year after getting its start under the wing of the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council.

This fall, several fundraising events failed to make up the festival’s budget deficit, and sponsorships from both businesses and individuals are down from 2008.

“Most people told us, ‘We love the film festival, but we just can’t give this year,’” co-director Michelle Emanuel said.

Fergusson said in a letter to aldermen prior to the meeting that after last year’s successful festival, they had had many promises for greater support — but due to the economy, donors had not been able to come through as they’d planned.

The organizers have spent the past months pursuing new funding sources while also scaling back their budget from a hopeful $100,000 to about $57,000. That’s roughly even with last year’s, even with some increased costs.

Meanwhile, they’ve also worked to keep the price of tickets far lower than many similar festivals so that people would come, Emanuel said.

Seeking a solution

For the board’s part, aldermen said they wanted to support the event — but didn’t want to encourage every other group in town to come to them for money.

“You’re preaching to the choir here,” Ward 3 Alderman Janice Antonow said.

“I think we all agree this is a wonderful event for Oxford in so many ways. What nicer thing can there be to do in the middle of winter than to sit in a warm theater watching great movies? But the problem for you — and for us — is the money.”

In the end, the board opted against making a direct contribution. Instead, it directed Hugh Stump, director of the Oxford Convention and Visitors Bureau, along with the Oxford Tourism Council to “do everything they could” to help the festival through the existing OCVB budget.

Contacting Tourism Council members this morning to affirm their support, Stump made plans to provide the $10,000 through a combination of sponsorship and advertising funds in the OCVB’s current budget.

This year’s film festival is slated to include a world-premiere film by the son of actress Debra Winger, as well as both regional-premiere and sneak-preview films coming here straight from the famed Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

Organizers roughly estimate some 2,500 people attend the Oxford Film Festival each year, including locals, out-of-town visitors and filmmakers with their groups.

“More than anything, we appreciate what you do,” Mayor Richard Howorth told Fergusson, Emanuel and co-director Micah Ginn.

“You spend a lot of your personal time trying to make something that benefits the city of Oxford, and we want — through the Tourism Council’s reasonably generous budget — to find a way to help y’all out.”

Ward 1 Alderman Pat Patterson was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.
The Oxford Film Festival is facing both a drop in sponsorship funding and a need to match high expectations as it enters its sixth year. Photo by Bruce Newman.

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