When news broke earlier today on Mike Jones' Circuit blog at Variety that Rich Raddon, the embattled leader of the Los Angeles Film Festival, had once again submitted his resignation to Film Independent -- and that the board of FIND had, this time, accepted it -- there was a sense of the inevitable and the regrettable arriving together at once.
Raddon had made what many, myself included, considered to be an unwise decision -- donating a substantial contribution to the effort to strip marriage rights from same sex couples in California. The furor, when the contribution became known, cast a dark cloud over FIND, one that seemed unlikely to pass until Raddon was no longer affiliated with the organization. What with FIND's big press conference next week to announce nominations for the 2009 Spirit Awards, it seemed unlikely that the parties would be interested in letting the controversy mar that event, much less simmer for weeks and weeks on end.
That is not to say that many, again myself included, believed that everyone was necessarily best served by Raddon's resignation. It came, as these things often do, because it seemed to be the obvious outcome, not because it was assuredly the best course of action.
[If for any reason you aren't up-to-speed on the Raddon situation, please read Eugene Hernandez' First Person piece at indieWIRE. Full disclosure: I have, for the past two years, been a member of a nominating committee for FIND's Spirit Awards, I have served on the jury at the LA Film Festival and I consider myself part of the larger Film Independent family.]
At the heart of the debate over California Prop 8, which we opposed publicly here, was the question of whether same sex marriage -- specifically the abolishing of the right to marriage by amending the state constitution -- was one primarily of civil rights or of religious and moral beliefs.
This debate was magnified in Raddon, a devout Mormon, as well as the actions of his church, which encouraged members to fund the Prop 8 campaign and even went so far as to send volunteers to California. It was also not lost that the tactics used by the Yes on Prop 8 campaign included outright deceptions - including trying to confuse gay communities that Prop 8 actually affirmed their right to marriage and asserting in flyers that Barack Obama supported Prop 8 even though he had publicly opposed it. [An article on the Mormon church's involvement in over a decade of campaigns against gay marriage ran in the Salt Lake Tribune this weekend, which labeled the fallout a "P.R. Fiasco" for the church.]
Thus the anger at some -- but not all -- in the Mormon church seemed, in the indie film community at least, to be aimed squarely at Raddon, whose actions left many confused and bewildered, if not outright angered.
There were reports that some would refuse to give their films to the LA Film Festival and murmurs that some kind of protest would be lodged against the Spirit Awards.
In an LA Times article on Sunday, queer members of the indie film community seemed split on what to do about Raddon, with at least one, filmmaker Gregg Araki, saying Raddon should resign:
Meanwhile, there have been numerous calls for boycotts directed at Sundance. The liberal website Americablog argued that filmmakers and studios should pull their films from the festival because it brings tourist dollars and positive attention to Utah. While an outright boycott is a highly unlikely scenario, David Poland argued later on the Hot Blog that he might support a more targeted boycott - refusing to see movies at the Holiday Village, a theater owned by Cinemark, whose CEO gave nearly 10K to the Yes on 8 cause.
All of this calls into question - just what is the role of a film festival? Is it, at Araki asserts, to "promote tolerence and equality"?
On Film Independent's home page, the statement reads:
Is a diverse community -- and importantly the tolerence and promotion of that diversity -- so essential to the make up of a major film festival that it's impossible for one to have core religious beliefs that conflict with those of the majority of your suppliers (filmmakers) and consumers (audience)?
Is there room in that diverse community for people of faith? For people of more conservative political beliefs? Or are film festivals only for the support and promotion of those who agree with a specific, left-of-center political philosophy? And therefore, must major film festivals -- and their primary staff -- have a de facto bias toward that philosphy?
Is running a film festival akin to running a military unit, wherein one must have at least the basic cultural agreements with the organization in order to lead (you don't see pacifists being brought in to oversee the fight in Iraq)?
It seems to me that Raddon's decision was unwise (did he not expect that anyone would find out or did he just not think through the implications of his actions). It also seems that his departure was unavoidable (for all the reasons stated above and because it was the kind of situation where a scapegoat was required). But I don't think this is a good development.
We had the right to protest Raddon's contribution. We have the right to make our feelings known in Park City in January. We have the right to protest the temples and churches that funded and campaigned for Prop 8.
But when a film festival becomes the battleground for our political, religious and social disagreements -- when film festival offices become places not of engaged debate but of enforced agreement -- something is lost. Lost for artists who require a laboratory for their most outrageous ideas, for audiences who seek out viewpoints that differ from their own, for a culture that is far too enclosed in the me-too-ism of talk radio, political blogs and cable news.
A film festival should be a place where we can engage, disagree, argue, fall in love, be frustrated and experience art from a variety of voices, diverse by nature of their race, their religion, their sexual orientation, their region, their nationality, their socio-economic status, their gender.
A film festival's job, and the job of those who run them, should be to encourage that experience, to foster it and to create the environment wherein that experience can grow.
Perhaps Raddon's contribution made it impossible for him to do that job. More to the point, perhaps his contribution made it impossible for others to believe he could do that job.
As inevitable as Tuesday's outcome was, it doesn't make it any better.