Will city's investment in film festival pay off?

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

April 3, 2013 at 8 p.m.
Updated April 3, 2013 at 11:04 p.m.

The Victoria TX Independent Film Festival has won a thumbs-up from most of its critics, but in its second year, the event is still trying to prove its worth.

Bringing almost 60 films, music, filmmakers and aficionados to Victoria comes at a cost. This year, half of the festival's planned expenses are covered by the city's hotel occupancy tax fund, which leaves some calling the festival a good investment and others worrying that it will flop.

Festival Executive Director Anthony Pedone said every dollar invested in the four-day event comes back to Victoria.

"It's all going for things in the community: hotel rooms, rent housing, rental cars, buying food, catering, alcohol," Pedone said. "All that money is injected back into the community."

The city allocated $68,900 in hotel tax dollars for the event. The rest of the event's $126,584 budget comes from ticket sales, sponsors and advertisements. Last year, the festival was allocated $43,150 in hotel tax funding but was reimbursed for $38,164.

Sponsorships totaled $31,000 that year. Totals were not available for this year's event.

The festival received the largest hotel tax allotment of the total $455,000 given out.

Pedone said the only thing that does not directly go back to Victoria is the $20,000 allotted for plane fare but added, "There's $20,000 in receipts dangling around somewhere."

Beyond the monetary return, he said, the festival opens up cultural opportunities for the city, attendees and the presenting filmmakers.

Other cities across Texas are also using their hotel occupancy tax dollars to invest in film festivals.

The Rockport Rotary Club Film Fest has received $5,500 in three years.

Fredericksburg's Hill Country Film Festival received $6,500 in hotel tax funding this year and $10,000 last year.

Hill Country Film Festival Director Chad Mathews said the hotel tax dollars carry about 25 percent of the total budget.

"This is our fourth year," he said. "It's going to take some time to get to the level where the city sees a bang for the buck, but they've started seeing that in small increments."

He said 45 percent of the attendees are from metropolitan areas, and some from out of state.

The overarching goal to bring more people to the festival should eventually carry the financial obligations, it's just a matter of time, Mathews said.

"The goal is to bring in as many audience members to see these films; they eat here, stay here, so the city sees the impact," Mathews said. "With time, I think it could be a really good event for the town."

Convention and Visitors Bureau Director LaRue Roth said Victoria's festival is on the same mission.

According to the festival's application for hotel occupancy tax funding, it used 244 hotel rooms last year.

The lack of available hotel rooms may have played a factor.

Roth said the festival is a strong investment.

"Sometimes you're not going to see that dollar-for-dollar return, but when you take into consideration not just hotels, but restaurants, shops and other attractions, we'll see it," she said.

As the event grows, more festival-goers and filmmakers will talk up Victoria, Roth said.

She applauded the council for supporting the festival.

"It's just the second year and, I think Anthony (Pedone) is doing an amazing job, and he works his heart out for this festival," she said.

The festival's funding is routed through the Victoria Performing Arts Center Inc., a nonprofit.

The nonprofit's president, Robert Hewitt Jr., said the only limit on Victoria's festival is hotel availability.

"Everything has small beginnings," he said. "But when you have small beginnings, typically you need the assistance of municipal authorities."

He said each festival expense is scrutinized by the nonprofit's accountant before being qualified for hotel tax funding.

"If it passes that hurdle, then we go to the following stages to look at the expenditure and see exactly what it is, if it seems silly or not," Hewitt said. "So far, everything's worked out very well."

Hewitt said the one complication is that the city funds the event on the back end.

He said the increase in funding is a factor to this year's growth.

"Not to put last year's festival down, but this year, they're really going to have some wonderful films to exhibit," he said.

Still, some think the curtain should fall on the festival.

Councilman David Hagan voted against funding the event, saying it is not a prudent use of tax dollars.

However, he said he wishes for the event's best outcome.

"I don't think there will be a return on investment for it," he said. "If the money's going to be spent, I hope it's successful."

Councilman Tom Halepaska said when Pedone asked for support the first time, he was skeptical.

"These guys came in late and didn't have their act together," Halepaska said.

Overall, the festival is a good investment of hotel tax dollars, he said.

"They pulled a rabbit out of a hat," Halepaska said. "If they can repeat that success, then it should be great."

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