Film fest organizer submits $82,680 for reimbursements
July 6, 2014 at 2:06 a.m.
Updated July 7, 2014 at 2:07 a.m.
Victoria is earning a name for itself in the film industry but at a cost that's growing each year.
Before getting reimbursed on more than half of this year's budget for the third annual Victoria TX Indie Film Fest, the event's staff will need to account for $82,680 in flights, limousine rides to and from Houston, a 30-night hotel stay and thousands spent on food, drinks, salaries and other costs.
On the surface, the expenses "don't pass the smell test," Victoria City Councilman Tom Halepaska said. "This isn't Hollywood."
The Film ExChange, which presents the festival, can spend its money however it wants to, Halepaska said.
"But as far as being reimbursed, we have good guidelines on that, and I'm sure it doesn't include booze, parties and a month's free stay at a hotel," Halepaska added.
Anthony Pedone, executive director of the festival, said the four-day event's economic impact and surveys show it is a success.
Throughout the weekend, the festival brings to downtown about 2,500 people who rented 396 hotel rooms, according to the post-event report.
"I feel like we're worth every penny," Pedone said. "But I'm a little bit biased."
The Film ExChange requested $155,600 in funding from the city but was approved for reimbursement up to $82,680.
The city offers financial support through the hotel occupancy tax fund, which is collected from overnight guests at hotels, bed and breakfasts and other lodging facilities. By state law, that money may be used only to promote tourism and the convention and hotel industry - a task many refer to as "heads in beds."
Other organizations that benefit from the same funding pool include Victoria Ballet Theatre, Theatre Victoria, Victoria Symphony Society and Victoria Bach Festival Association.
While the event waits for reimbursement, the expenses have been paid from the Victoria Performing Arts Center account, overseen by accountant Bruce Woolson.
"Once we see that whatever expense he's (Pedone) requesting complies with the budget that is approved by Victoria City Council, we reimburse the Film ExChange," Woolson said.
Halepaska questioned some expenses, but Woolson said the event has never in the past failed to receive all of the funds granted to VPAC under its hotel tax agreement with the city. He did not say who would absorb the cost if the City Council denied any reimbursement requests.
"We don't consider that as a real possibility," Woolson said.
VPAC only submits reimbursement requests to the city that meet all criteria established for HOT funds in the agreement with the city; other festival expenses not funded by the city are covered by private donations, he said.
The organization has received private donations and some state assistance through the Texas Film Commission but has not received any other federal or state funding.
Coordination efforts already are underway for the 2015 festival, Woolson said.
According to the film festival's post-event report, about 2,500 people attended this year's event, and 396 hotel rooms were booked as a result of the weekend event. Pedone is seeking reimbursement for $10,324 for lodging - including one 30-night stay for an unnamed attendee - for presenters, actors, directors, jurors and other festival guests, and domestic and international flights totaling $25,000.
Pedone wants the festival to have a broad reach, he said.
"We want to reach an international community," Pedone said. "The more we reach out into the world, the more people know about Victoria."
Film maker Boris Castro is considering relocating to Victoria to work for the festival and to complete a film about a local songwriter, Pedone said.
"If we were to just limit it to regionally, there's a lot of people available on this side of the pond, but there's also an incredible resource out there and chances for exchange with other cultures," Pedone said.
Before the city opens the checkbook, the city attorney, finance director and funding committee will review the receipts. The City Council has the final say.
City Attorney Thomas Gwosdz said each expense is reviewed to make sure it legally qualifies for reimbursement.
"What the city cares about is that they prove they spent the money they applied for in the way they said they were going to spend it and in a legally reimbursable way," Gwosdz said. "The city will only reimburse for qualified expenses. Period."
A reimbursement for food and drinks totals $6,426 from The PumpHouse, The Sendera, Specs and other businesses.
Vic Caldwell, a member of the funding committee, said the city never allocated or approved money "to be used for food and alcohol specifically."
"The committee doesn't look at food and alcohol as being acceptable," Caldwell said.
He said the reimbursement process is solid.
"I know the committee works hard to be as fair as possible across the board," he said.
Caldwell said some organizations and events may lose funding in the coming year.
"You want to encourage and nurture new events and give them the opportunity to know they can be successful," Caldwell said. "I think this year is going to be the year that some of those events we funded may drop off the list because they showed that they didn't meet their goals."
Hotel tax funding grew in 2010, 2011 and 2012 but took a 7 percent dip in 2013.
Finance Director Gilbert Reyna is projecting another decrease for 2014.
"We're not going to hit the $1.8 million like last year," he said.
He expects the hotel tax fund to come in between $1.65 million and $1.75 million.
The committee is looking for the biggest bang for the buck, Caldwell said.
"Some of the smaller groups benefit the most from having a little bit of help. They don't have the deep pockets the bigger groups have," Caldwell said.
Pedone will request $83,000 from the city for next spring's festival; an additional $60,000 in donations will help make the festival happen.
"There's a fair trade-off with what the city provides the festival in turn for what these people bring to the community," Pedone said. "Hopefully, they'll come through for us."
Pedone points to cities such as Austin, where the economic development department developed a "Creative Content Incentive Program" to fight off in-state competition for film, TV and video game projects.
San Antonio has the Supplemental San Antonio Film Incentive Program.
With four films already produced in Victoria and another six on their way, Pedone is imagining Victoria as another prime location for the film industry to grow.
"I hope that the city has the foresight and that the committee that looks at these requests has the foresight to see what's brewing," Pedone said. "It's about bringing huge amounts of economic impact to this community through film production."