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Is it ‘the end’ for Marfa Film Festival

January 7th, 2011 under Top Stories

By TOM HAINES

MARFA – A formal announcement this week made official what has long been rumored: the Marfa Film Festival will not take place this May.

It is unclear when or if the festival will be staged again.

The festival, begun in 2008, has become a citywide event, with screenings indoor and out, drawing film-goers from near and far. It has been increasingly on the radar of filmmakers and others on the festival circuit.

“I know full well the impact that this may have on many of the local businesses and also the disappointment felt by those of us whose lives it has touched, and for that I deeply apologize,” Robin Lambaria, festival director, wrote in a letter circulated Monday.

As a practical matter, it has been clear for some time that the festival could not occur. Lambaria said she stopped taking submissions from filmmakers in late summer, and no sponsorship funding had been sought for this year’s festival in the months since.

Lambaria said in the letter that she chose to cancel the festival because of uncertainty stemming from a lawsuit, filed in 2009 by Cory Van Dyke, her former fiancée and partner during the festival’s first two years.

Van Dyke said in an interview this week that, though he has pursued the lawsuit to regain official standing as festival co-founder, as well as financial and other compensation for his early festival efforts, he has in no way attempted to keep the festival from taking place.

“I haven’t asked the festival to stop. I haven’t asked (the court) to enjoin it from going on,” Van Dyke said. “It’s my baby, too. I wanted it to live and grow and be great. And I didn’t try to stop it.”

The lawsuit began in August 2009, months after the completion of the festival’s second production. Van Dyke and Lambaria had ended their personal relationship and a dispute had arisen about the role of each in the festival.

In his initial legal claim, Van Dyke sought $6,500 in damages for property lost and an award of other financial compensation.

After a false start or two, the case moved to formal mediation during the past year. That process did not succeed. In recent months, however, a series of positive email negotiations between Van Dyke and Lambaria appeared to be leading closer to a settlement. Under some terms discussed, Van Dyke and Lambaria would settle the suit for compensation that included for Van Dyke:

• official standing as festival co-founder

• opportunity to present a film each year

• several thousand dollars in compensation

• a handful of VIP passes for family and friends

Lambaria confirmed this week that general terms were agreed upon.

“We were having a positive conversation,” Lambaria said.

But negotiations appear to have broken down on an issue of trust: specifically whether the settlement would be between Van Dyke and Lambaria personally, or between Van Dyke and the festival itself, either as part of the LLC that operates it or with a non-profit organization, should the festival change to that.

With that impasse remaining, the two parties met in court yesterday for a status hearing that presumably will move the case toward trial.

Before court, Lambaria said: “I’ve tried everything humanly possible to not go here.”

After the hearing, Van Dyke said he was forwarding another settlement offer to Lambaria.

“I’ve made a real effort over and over again to settle this thing, and it’s just never happened,” he said.

If the festival does not take place this or any other year, Van Dyke said, it is simply because Lambaria has chosen not to organize it. Lambaria said she does not want to involve filmmakers, sponsors and their money in a situation that may end up deeper in court.

“I didn’t want any filmmaker to pay the cost of this lawsuit,” she said.

The festival, meanwhile, will likely unwind further.

Lambaria expects to close the festival office space on East Oak Street. She is unsure about whether she will attempt to produce the event next year.

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