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VIFF 2013: Festival Director Alan Franey Resigns, Tumult to Follow

Alan Franey, Vancouver International Film Festival, tenders his resignation as Festival Director

On Saturday morning, October 12th, Vancouver International Film Festival co-founder, and for 26 years the Festival Director, tendered his resignation.

Despite Alan's statement to the contrary, what will follow will most assuredly be experienced by many as tumult, as upset and — as the Festival attempts to find a new direction sans it's co-founder and reigning intelligence — a period of irresolution the likes of which we haven't seen since the period of instability that occurred when Toronto Film Festival maven Hannah Fisher assumed the position of VIFF Festival Director 1985 - 1988, following VIFF co-founder Leonard Schein's resignation and truncated tenure as the Director of the, then, Toronto Festival of Festivals.

Since 1988, when incoming Chairperson of VIFF's Board of Directors and political apparatchik extraordinaire, Michael Francis, conducted a coup of VIFF's Board of Directors, installing Alan Franey as the Festival's once and forever director, Alan has remained atop the power structure of VIFF, a mature and thoughtful man of zen countenance possessed of an uncommon humanity, and a coherent and incisive administrative management capability that has not seen its equal on the arts scene in Vancouver since his investiture as Festival head, an arts administrator without equal, and in consequence utterly and profoundly irreplaceable.

That Alan wishes to spend more time with his lovely wife Donna — there is no scene which fills our heart with more joy than to see Alan and Donna, arm and arm, after lo these many years of an endearing and enduring companionship of the most tender affection, walking along and through the beachfront area stretching from Jericho Beach to the western end of Spanish Banks, very much in love, very much devoted to one another — is understandable. Does recognition of such circumstance lessen, in any way, the impact of what Alan's leave-taking will mean for the Festival going forward, the period of tumult that is sure to follow? No, no it does not.

For Vancouver's International Film Festival, where to from here? Although in his statement of resignation (which you will find at some greater length at the end of this post), for the official record Alan states that ...

Our senior staff and board have been working towards this executive transition for a few years, and we are fortunate to have several deeply knowledgeable and dedicated long-term employees who work 60-80 hour weeks on our behalf. We all look forward to building on this year's success.

Although we would not question Alan's veracity for one moment, we believe that such simple statement of reassurance does not begin to plumb the depths of circumstance respecting the conditions which have lead up to Alan's Saturday, October 12th, resignation as VIFF'S Festival Director.

Over the course of this past year, much was made over the loss of the Granville 7 Cinema as the longtime home of the Festival. Much less was made of the challenging economic circumstance that VIFF had to confront when, in 2012, Festival attendance dropped a precipitous 20% — most days on which the Festival occurred last year were warm and sunny, as potential VIFF patrons stayed away from darkened rooms of cinematic splendour, opting instead to enjoy the last vestiges of an unseasonably warm late summer, following upon what had been in 2012 a dreadfully chilly, inhospitable and rain-soaked June, July, August and early September.

In 2012, the Festival experienced a financial loss for the first time in many, many years. In the past, such a loss would have been made up by government grants of economic sustenance, or sponsorship monies from VIFF's main financial supporters. But these are the days of post-economic collapse and continued economic uncertainty — the monies just weren't there to ensure that the Vancouver International Film Festival would endure. With VIFF's movement out into the community this year, Festival administration projected break-even, but more likely another loss.

Over the course of the past year, Alan's job was very much on the line. The consequence of another financial loss for the Festival in 2013 would mean that Alan's options would be limited — the Board (Alan was no longer protected by Michael Francis, who had resigned his position as Chair some years back) would demand Alan's resignation in the face of a Vancouver film festival in which the public had seemingly lost confidence.

Contrary to the most salutary administrative VIFF projection of 2013 box office, with its uncertain move into the community, and early 2013 Festival days of torrential downpour, VIFF patrons flocked to the Festival. On Day 3 of the Festival, in conversation with VanRamblings, Alan turned to us to say, "Weather forecasters are advising Vancouverites to stay at home, warm and safe and away from the winds and torrents of rain. Instead, cinephiles are flocking to our Festival in record numbers, line-ups are long, and — although, perhaps, it is too early to say with authority — the future of our Festival, an important cultural institution, seems quite assured."

The Board would not be pushing Alan out of his position as Festival Director following what will, in the days to come, come to be reported as a halcyon year in the history of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Alan Franey takes his leave as Festival Director, of his own volition and secure in the knowledge that he leaves our Festival not without challenges that are still to be faced, but in a much more secure position financially than anyone could reasonably have predicted coming into the 32nd edition of our utterly transformative — and world class — film festival by the sea.

In the days to come, we will write of Alan's legacy — and his peculiar, yet humane and wildly successful style of arts adminstration — but not in this post. You'll just have to wait.

Where to from here? — yes, we're finally going to get around to answering the question posed eight paragraphs above.

The transition to a new Festival Director, and a new style of arts administration, will not be an easy one.

Perhaps, as Alan hopes, all will go well, and a salutary succession plan — one in which a senior VIFF programmer will assume benign artistic provenance over the Festival — will occur. That and, of course, herefords will fly, natural fruit jelly bears will cascade from the sky directly into our open hand, and each night forever anon we will, each and every one of us, sleep the sleep of angels, secure in the knowledge that it is today, as it will be tomorrow, a world where social and economic justice will remain, as it has forever, the universal circumstance of our plenary condition.

No, all will not be well. How do we know this? Two words: Vision Vancouver.

Given its penchant for morbid control, we believe Vancouver's once and future civic administration will most assuredly, and without a shred of doubt, come to exercise an unsavoury control over the selection process of a new Festival Director for the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Somewhere across this vast globe of ours, a Vision Vancouver and Tides Foundation-supported Hollyhock acolyte — currently employed elsewhere in a circumstance of jurisdiction as a senior film festival arts administrator — will make her way to Vancouver to assume the post Alan Franey will vacate in 2013. Perhaps VIFF will install a caretaker Festival Director. But most probably not. If one can be said to "know" Vision Vancouver, at all, Vancouver's is a municipal administration intent on building a legacy of control far beyond their period of electability.

Not a pretty picture, or one that serves the long term interests of the devoted fans of world cinema who live across Metro Vancouver, and across the globe, who each autumn as we have for many many years, find ourselves resident within one of the world's finest festivals of foreign language, independent, Canadian, and non-fiction cinema.

The behind-the-scenes machinations respecting Alan's replacement will be of Machiavellian proportion — all out of the public eye, of course, but let us hope that among those inside the smoke-filled rooms will be a person of conscience, someone who is committed to transparency, who will leak information of consequence and import, akin to extemporaneous manner.

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VanRamblings is melancholy, dejected, verklempt.

Alan is stepping down. Our Festival will never be the same again, and although Vancouver's international film festival will endure, the mise en scène of our beloved Festival will be forever changed. Maybe a good thing.

But in the short term, probably not.

VanRamblings wishes Alan and Donna well, and at next year's Festival very much look forward to viewing the world cinema Alan — in his continuing capacity as a VIFF programmer — will have brought to our shores, for the screenings of his films of choice, deep inside the darkened cinematic coliseums of the 2014 Vancouver International Film Festival.

Alan Franey's Statement of Resignation

This 2013 Vancouver International Film Festival has been my 26th as Festival Director and it will be my last in this role. I hope to remain very much involved with VIFF but to focus on programming. I also hope to live a more balanced life and to have more time for other pursuits. Don't we all?! For me that day has come.

It has been a privilege for me to lead this organization for so long, and there are many people I will remain grateful to. Our senior staff and board have been working towards this executive transition for a few years, and we are fortunate to have several deeply knowledgeable and dedicated long-term employees who work 60-80 hour weeks on our behalf. We all look forward to building on this year's success. This work is a pleasure and brings its own rewards.

We live in a digital world in which quality is not always easily gleaned from quantity. Many directions for VIFF may be considered. My hope is that we will keep our eyes focused on our long-standing mandate to value cinema as an art form and as a bridge between peoples. This will surely serve us well in the future.

Gracious, hope-filled, father, husband, arts administrator no more.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at October 13, 2013 2:48 AM in VIFF 2013

   

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