First-year Victoria film festival asks for city support

By MELISSA CROWE - Victoria Advocate
Jan. 12, 2012 at 5:02 p.m.
Updated Jan. 12, 2012 at 7:13 p.m.

The Victoria City Council will meet in a special work session Friday to discuss funding for a springtime film festival at the downtown performing arts center.

Anthony Pedone, executive director of the Victoria Texas Independent Film Festival, said that although the March event is not completely funded, "it's a go."

"It is what it is," he said Thursday. "The dates are booked. We bought the dress."

O.C. Garza, the city's director of communications, said the work session, scheduled for 4 p.m. in the council chamber, is to discuss the proposed event and figure out if it is something that should be and can be financially supported through hotel/motel occupancy tax funds.

"We have already collected some funds that are not included in the budget, that would be council's determination" to spend, Garza said. "As a city, we spend budgeted funds, but as we collect funds, the council can always come back and request that other things be added or taken out of the budget."

The city has that option with hotel occupancy tax funds, he said.

City Attorney Thomas Gwosdz said the legal standard for spending the hotel occupancy tax funds is that it must promote tourism, the convention and hotel industry.

"Generally, it means you're putting people in hotels overnight," he said.

Based on what he has seen about Pedone's festival, the event meets the criteria for that funding, Gwosdz said.

Pedone approached the city council a few months ago about his dream festival, scheduled March 22-24 at the Leo J. Welder Center for the Performing Arts, the week after Austin's South by South West festival.

However, he said, he did not at first get the impression the city would financially support it.

"We're still doing the festival, but I would love if the city was behind it," Pedone said.

Councilman Joe Truman said he sees the festival as an opportunity to see Victoria grow.

"I'm not going to throw away money frivolously," he said.

However, if the festival passes his criteria, he said he would consider covering the rental fees for the Welder Center.

"This is the initial talking phase to see if it's something that would generate some buzz about Victoria," he said.

Convention and Visitors Bureau Director LaRue Roth seemed confident the festival would. She said it fills a need in the city's arts scene.

"Film festivals are scheduled in cool places. It kicks it up a notch here," she said.

Nonetheless, the Friday meeting has thrown red flags up to at least one taxpayer.

Jeff Williams, a Victoria business owner, said he is concerned about the timing of the meeting.

"Everything seems to want to be done in secret," he said. "My concern is - the money, they will do whatever they want to with the money - but something like this that could have been discussed during a normal meeting was done on a Friday night."

He said he did not plan to attend the meeting.

City Councilman Gabriel Soliz said he had reservations about allocating funds to a first-year event.

"I think it's a wonderful idea if it was initiated by private investors first," Soliz said.

He said he would be more apt to funding a festival after it had an established track record of attracting people to Victoria.

"To come out and have a business plan where we do the investing is a gamble with taxpayer money," Soliz said. "It's something that I really am hesitant to embrace without seeing the private sector initiate (funding)."

Pedone said the event already has local sponsors and a major alcohol sponsorship in the works.

"It's about the independent artists," Pedone said. "The sponsors are who make it happen, but the name is in honor of and the spirit of independent artists."

Robert J. Hewitt Jr., who is on the board that manages the Victoria Performance Arts Center, will handle the festival's finances.

"I've gotten to know Anthony. He's certainly enthusiastic, and he believes in what he's doing," Hewitt said. "I'm sure he'll do a good job, but he needs some depth on his bench to handle the money, and that's what we're doing here."

Victoria Performance Arts Center is "sussing out" the festival's needs in conjunction with a separate $200,000 plan to retrofit the 500-seat space with screens and projectors for future events and conferences, Hewitt said.

"We want to do what we can to help support and provide momentum for the downtown revitalization project," Hewitt said. "This gives the Welder Center a whole different set of tools to put at the public's disposal."



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