Arts & Entertainment
3 min

Inside Out faces staff crunch

Film fest budget finally in the black

With next year’s film festival rapidly approaching, Inside Out is scrambling to fill the holes left by the departure of two key employees.

But the good news is that in 2007, the queer festival will be operating in the black for the first time in years.

Inside Out is looking to hire a new director of programming and a new director of corporate sales and personal giving within weeks. Executive director Scott Ferguson says the absence of those employees has put Inside Out behind schedule for May’s festival.

“We should be in the middle of programming and in the middle of soliciting donations,” says Ferguson. “We get 600 to 700 films submitted. It’s a lot of work. But we’re hoping to have people in place by mid-January.”

Ferguson says hiring a new director of programming will bring some challenges, even apart from the time crunch. The outgoing director, Gary Varro is leaving for personal reasons; he had only been hired last year, in time to program the 2006 festival.

“We were transitioning from our old program director who had been with us for five years to someone new. Gary was new to Toronto and the Toronto arts scene. He bought a new perspective, a fresh outlook.”

But Ferguson says Inside Out has finally cleared an accumulated deficit of $60,000, leaving the festival in the clear after four years of running surpluses.

“I don’t think the festival has really been in the black since the first few years. And it was a much smaller festival then. Even in the six years I’ve been here, we’ve seen costs rise. The Cumberland theatre used to be fully subsidized by Famous Players. Now we have to pay $26,000 in venue rental fees, distributors are asking for way bigger fees, shipping costs have gone up.”

At Inside Out’s annual general meeting in December, the organization presented its financial statements for the year ending Jun 30, 2006. The festival had a surplus of $13,055, down from a surplus of $42,810 in 2005.

Ferguson admits it was a trying year financially.

“The big challenge was the financial one. We lost three sponsors, which added up to $40,000. We lost a good chunk of our donations. We had had a matching gift program which raised $64,000 in 2005, but that was a one-year program. We lost another donor who had given us $50,000 who didn’t come back because of his own financial challenges.

Ferguson says they’ve had to trim administrative staff positions.

“We had been up to five full-time employees. Some contract positions went from six months to three months, including our marketing and community outreach position. This past year we didn’t pay as much attention to personal giving as possible. We had to cut our director of development, which had been funded by external sources for three years. For those three years, we were really able to identify donors and revenue sources.”

Ferguson says the problems with donations have made festival attendance even more important for the festival’s financial health.

“Our box office this year stayed about the same in terms of revenues, although we had more physical sellouts. This is a city of how many hundreds of thousands of gay people, and we’re only drawing on a pool of 30,000. They need to support the festival. There’s a breadth of work you don’t get at the video store or the multiplex or on the Internet. I think we’re a community big enough that we can support more than Pride and HIV/AIDS. My big job is to make sure everyone knows about the festival.”

Ferguson says Inside Out is determined not to let any financial problems interfere with the festival itself.

“We want to play as many movies as we want to play. I would like to bring in more directors, but that costs money.”

At December’s AGM, Inside Out reappointed Justine Pimlott as the chair of the board of directors and Adonica Huggins as the vice-chair. Anoushki Bodhinayake, David Hazzan, Emma Lewzey, Ashraf Sadek and Trish Tervit were appointed for the first time. All will serve two-year terms.

This year’s festival will run from Thu, May 17 to 27.

“We’ve got our international focus set,” says Ferguson. “It’s on East Asia, including China, the Philippines and Taiwan.”