The firing of S.F. International Film Festival Executive Director Roxanne Messina-Captor, mere hours after the last Skyy Cosmo was drained at the closing-night party, was the most striking admission of failure by the board of a local arts organization in memory. One wonders, though, as the SFIFF board begins the search for her replacement, if it recognizes its mistake as strategic rather than a bad hire. The festival's future depends on the answer.
Messina-Captor, a Los Angeles producer of limited accomplishments, sold the board on the idea that she could tap her Hollywood contacts to lure both movie stars and industry types to the festival. For those board members who are in it for the glitz and glamour -- as well as those who subscribe to the misguided notion that San Francisco can be a destination festival like Sundance (or Tribeca, to be nasty about it) -- these were magic words. Well, Messina-Captor failed to deliver on her promise, and as a bonus she fumbled the prosaic but crucial ED tasks of management, fund-raising, and marketing.
But the average festivalgoer didn't care about the dizzying staff turnover that occurred during her four-plus years. Or Messina-Captor's insistence on being the festival's public face, a role typically filled at performing or presenting arts organizations by the artistic director. Or even the way she appointed herself to the programming committee and influenced the decisions regarding recipients of the annual acting and directing awards.
Her biggest miscalculation was raising ticket prices two years ago in line with a philosophy that the SFIFF should support itself as if it were a for-profit enterprise -- a unique goal in the festival world, namely because it's impossible to achieve. All the price hike did was cut into ticket sales by discouraging attendees from taking as many chances, a central element of the film fest experience.
All of this may sound like an indictment of Messina-Captor, but it's about more than her: It will be unfortunate if the board reaches the conclusion that she had a sound plan but was unqualified to carry it out. That way madness lies -- i.e., back to L.A., in pursuit of another player with a third-rate Rolodex.
In fact, the board needs to take a closer look at the Bay Area, where myriad festivals spotlight every niche and byway of cinema and take a targeted slice of the audience in the bargain. The SFIFF is no longer the only show, as it was 48 years ago, and it's time to reinvent it. Instead of a broad, amorphous catchall of films culled from the festival circuit, it should get smaller and more innovative, scale down the number of movies by a third, and turn more programs into events.
For example, fly in Pedro Almodóvar to present the Film Society Directing Award to an aging master -- and to introduce three movies from the honoree's oeuvre. Invite Salma Hayek to pick and introduce a couple of new Mexican pictures. Show only documentaries without distribution, and bypass commercial fare such as Mad Hot Ballroom and Murderball. Cut ticket prices for the Skyy Prize contenders -- debut narratives by young directors -- to $6. (And roll back prices overall, while we're at it.)
There are ways to return the SFIFF to prominence (local, not national) that don't entail going Hollywood or ignoring the marvelous history of cinema. In looking for a new executive director, the board should show the same spine it did when it fired the last one. (Michael Fox)
Last week, Ray Ratto, the Chronicle sports columnist and occasional ESPN.com contributor, referred to Oakland A's pitcher Huston Street as a "crypto-closer." We had no clue what he meant, either, but that's nothing new: We never understand Ray Ratto, who must have a dilly of a time typing in his straitjacket. We did realize, however, that we'd seen the odd prefix before -- several times, in fact. Call it Ratto's crypto-crutch. His coinages over the last few years:
crypto-closer Huston Street
crypto-Super Bowl contender
crypto-free agency period
crypto-slate of games
crypto-obsession (Tommy Craggs)