The organisers of the Dungog Film Festival have been forced to cancel this year's event, collateral damage after the financial failure of their Cockatoo Island Film Festival last year.
The Dungog fest was launched in 2007 by Allanah Zitserman and her partner Stavros Kazantzidis with a brief to showcase Australian films. The 2013 edition was due to take place in the upper Hunter Valley town's historic James Theatre from May 30 – June 1.
The theatre's booking officer Lisa Connors told SBS Film the dates were set last November. In February, she was advised by the organisers that they “could not proceed without a substantial injection of funds from an exterior source”.
She said the organisers asked the Dungog Shire Council for $20,000 to cover the cost of transporting VIPs and accommodating them, plus rent-free use of the James Theatre and two other venues and the gratis provision of volunteers, cleaning and electricity.
The council replied there was no room in its budget for such an outlay. Connors said the local community was very keen for the festival to continue and she had offered the organisers alternative dates in May or June, to no avail.
The fest was staged by the Cockatoo Institute. The fest's website, which lists the 2012 edition, says: “The festival presents a smorgasbord of new Australian features, restored masterpieces, thought-provoking documentaries, cutting edge shorts, premiere television and education programs (master classes, workshops, works-in-progress). Audiences get to experience the rare opportunity of being up close and personal with talented filmmakers and actors.”
Staged in October, the Cockatoo Island festival collapsed with debts of $1.77 million, according to the Sydney Morning Herald which said more than 80 creditors will likely get 9¢ in the dollar.
Budgeted at $2 million, the event on Sydney Harbour was an overly ambitious mixture of outdoor and indoor film screenings, pop concerts, seminars, yacht race and other public attractions. The opening night premiere of The Master was marred by complaints from at least 100 people who could not get into the cinema and long queues for over-priced food and drinks.
The organisers claimed total attendance reached 34,000 but the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust CEO Geoff Bailey told the Herald the actual number was fewer than 16,000, including 1,900 staff and volunteers.
According to the Herald, three companies associated with the organisers are owed more than $500,000 but Zitserman and Kazantzidis have agreed not to claim these debts under a deed of company arrangement.
''The festival did deliver some fantastic things and the vision for the festival was a fantastic vision,” Kazantzidis told the paper. “Anyone who attempts these things understands that sometimes, particularly in the early stage, how fragile they can be.''