West Hollywood, California (Monday, August 17, 2009) – (Part one of two parts – see Part II here) – The second annual West Hollywood International Film Festival (WHIFF)’s premier evening fell apart in a fiasco of Fellini-esque proportions this year.
Festival promoters switched locations 24 hours before the premier event (to Hollywood), played fast and loose with the premier night’s schedule of events and stopped the headline film before its finish, alienating the high-profile set of panelists scheduled to discuss it and causing them, along with 80 percent of the audience, to stalk out in disgust.
The two short films left on the schedule after that maelstrom of events could not be seen because the festival lacked proper projection equipment – they apparently had relied on filmmakers to bring their own.
WHIFF promoter Martin Deluca told WeHo News five days before his festival premier that “no one stepped forward to sponsor my festival” and so he could not afford the fees asked by the Pacific Design Center (PDC).
He said that day that he had no idea where his premier would take place, telling only ticket holders by E mail on Tuesday that Wednesday’s event had moved from West Hollywood to Hollywood’s Roosevelt Hotel.
WeHo News reviewed the premier film, “Annul Victory,” about the Proposition 8 electoral battle over same-sex marriage, on Monday, changing locations late Tuesday after hearing from the film’s subject, Robin Tyler.
At the same time Mr. Deluca changed locations, he also changed the schedule of events, attempting to separate the documentary and the panel Ms. Tyler had organized to talk about the move to repeal Prop 8 after the documentary’s showing.
That panel included nationally-renown experts and gay movement leaders such as Jon Davidson, Senior Council for LAMBDA Legal and one of the lead attorneys in the historic California Supreme Court case which legalized same-sex marriage; Lorri Jean, Executive Director of the LA Gay & Lesbian Center; Marc Solomon, Marriage Director for Equality California; Olga Vives, past-Executive Vice President of the National Organization for Women and Director of NOW’s Equal Marriage Campaign and Mat Palazzolo, co-founder Equal Roots.
Apparently Mr. Deluca wanted to put the panel discussion on first and then show unrelated films and then, to cap the night, show the already discussed “Annul Victory.”
He told WeHo News, “I had filmmakers there from around the world and I wanted them to see their film first. [Ms. Tyler] came in and ruined everything.”
Mr. Davidson told WeHo News a tale of mass confusion, “It was upsetting that they changed the location the day before because we’d sent out hundreds of E mails to Lambda Legal contacts…
“When I got there [for the reception scheduled at 6:00] I found total chaos; they couldn’t check anybody in because they didn’t have paper bracelets. We waited for half an hour for those to arrive.”
Mr. Deluca was on the “red carpet” outside the ersatz “theater” (a ballroom in the Roosevelt with a glass ceiling that allowed flashing light seepage from the street giving the screenings the flavor of a public safety school film shown in a gymnasium) when, as attendee Pat Harrison tells it; “it was total chaos that night, and the audience was getting very, very upset that the Festival had not started on time.
“Finally,’ she said, “Robin [Tyler] came up, apologized, said that people could not find the two short films yet, and asked the audience if we wanted to see “Annul Victory;” it was 7:30. There was a huge YES from all of us, and so she asked the people running the films to start it.”
This apparently angered Mr. Deluca. “Suddenly, the documentary was showing,” he said. “They put it on even though I scheduled it for 10:30.”
Attendees thought the start odd, saying they expected welcoming and introductory comments.
After 30 minutes, or two-thirds through the film, the screen went black. Mr. Deluca claimed technical troubles, but several witnesses saw him at the projector in the moments before the blank screen, indicating to them, they said, that he simply stopped the film.
Their suspicions deepened when, in the confusion that followed Mr. Deluca claimed unfamiliarity with and dislike of the film’s content, saying according to two witnesses, “I didn’t know this was gay; I’m not into all this gay stuff.”
Mr. Deluca denied uttering those comments, although both Diane Olson (Robin Tyler’s wife and co-subject of the film) and Olga Vives say they heard him – and both used the same phrasing in separate interviews.
At the same time, after reportedly first accusing “Annul Victory’s” producer Bill Manuel of doing so, Mr. Deluca charged Ms. Tyler with stealing his other films, allegedly manhandling her roughly in the doing, grabbing her by the arm sufficiently to bruise it, claims Ms. Tyler.
Stacy Codikow, the Executive Director of Power Up, (lesbians in film), found the films under the ticketing table after separating Mr. Deluca from Ms. Tyler.
Mr. Deluca denied touching Ms. Tyler, however, WeHo News received confirmation from several of those in attendance that he had grabbed and yelled at her.
Between allegedly shutting the film down, making those alleged comments, allegedly abusing Ms. Tyler and insisting that the panel discussion await the showing of two other film short, Mr. Deluca apparently alienated the panel sufficiently that they walked out en masse, taking the vast majority of attendees in their wake.
The collapse of opening night, according to sources, could have been predicted based on their allegations of unethical, if not criminal, conduct and apparent ineptitude demonstrated by Mr. Deluca.
Several people told WeHo News that dealing with Mr. Deluca in the festival’s run-up seemed like a journey “Though The Looking Glass,” with one filmmaker pulling his film from the festival in July when he realized the potential for a debacle (more on that next week).
Next week: Claims by filmmakers that Mr. Deluca tried to extort money from them, accusations of fraudulent claims made to raise money or make “deals,” and charges of double-dealing.
Look for Robin Tyler’s Op-ed on her experience later today, Thursday, August 20. That article will appear on our Front Page in the People Section.