The Lone Star International Film Fest and the firing of Tom Huckabee

I have to wonder by what accident and ill state of mind the Lone Star Film Society Executive Committee under the leadership of Chairman Johnny Langdon must have been when they fired Tom Huckabee as Artistic Director of the Lone Star Independent Film Festival. Especially when on their own website front-page it states in big bold letters “Inaugural Lone Star International Film Festival a great success” over a picture of smiley faced Bill Paxton and Harry Dean Stanton, two of the celebrities that Huckabee hand delivered to Fort Worth along with that success they’re speaking about.

A native of Fort Worth, Huckabee has worked as a filmmaker in Hollywood for nearly 30 years. He came back home early last year for his family and was tapped to run this fest. Needless to say he has true experience in this industry with lots of connections.

When hired on there was already too little time, not enough money and way too many egos to really pull together a festival. Huckabee commandeered the situation with a mighty heart and managed to pull off a world-class festival for three reasons: he loves Fort Worth, he loves Film and he had a great crew.

That exceptional crew included Managing Director Pete Asplund, Advisory Board Chairman Bill Paxton, Head Programmer Alec Jhangiani, and a slew of other key contributors like Julio Cedillo and Jenny Jopling. I too volunteered, acting as a member of the Programming Committee for the festival. Therefore I got to watch from the inside as this ship came into port. I tell you now that never has a captain and his crew faced such storms and choppy waters as Huckabee did on this maiden voyage.

As a filmmaker I’ve visited many film festivals in this fine country of ours. My experience has varied and I’ve learned a lot about how this system works. I promise you that this first year festival truly did hold it’s own in the world of festivals.

There was a perfect blend of celebrities and local filmmakers and big name films alongside foreign and underground films that most of the Fort Worth populace might never be exposed too. The parties were packed. Happiness and fellowship abounded. People from all over the country were here talking about how wonderful and laid back Fort Worth is. I heard the comment over and over that this is a perfect place for a festival. Never have I felt more proud to be a native son of this great city.

Of course there were some problems. No first year festival of any size happens without a few mishaps. Even still, under the leadership of Huckabee the festival was a great success. Working with his team he delivered us an institution that if nurtured can sit right alongside the Van Cliburn Competition and our wonderful museums as another reason Fort Worth is a world class city for art and one of the most livable cities in the US.

Yet, a little more than a month after the festival Huckabee was unceremoniously fired and Asplund’s contract was allowed to expire. It’s rumored that several important board members have quit in protest of the insular actions of the Executive Committee. Now several contributors like Paxton, Jopling, Cedillo and myself have vowed not to return to the festival. With board members, key supporters, and Huckabee leaving so does the hope of a viable second year festival. With so much potential for greatness and a chance to build on the success of the first festival one has to wonder what the logic is.

Maybe the subject of this article is the problem. Someone’s ego got bruised and they felt the need to horde all the glory and power for themselves. Now they’re left with one golden egg but the goose is gone and our whole city will suffer the loss. My only hope now is that cooler heads will prevail and Mr. Huckabee will be allowed back in and given the chance to deliver a bigger and better festival this year.

5 comments:

Steve | 1:34 PM

Very well put, James. Thanks for adding your inside perspective.

Adam Donaghey | 9:12 PM

You've pretty much covered everything here, James, so I won't add anything, except that I have a sneaking suspicion that we'll see the same thing happen to the LSIFF that happened to the Fort Worth Film Festival. Even though many positive changes had been made, the bridges that have been burned recently may be the end of something Fort Worth really could have benefited from.

David Lowery | 12:51 AM

I like your final statement - while I know there's movement from an alternative front, the idea of multiple factions at odds with each other is inevitably going to cause confusion. This shouldn't be a competition. I hope that whatever festival emerges from this fracas has all the right people (we know who they are) on board, working with the proper means and without some other entity scrambling to keep up.

Kat Candler | 1:29 PM

what a disappointment. i heard such amazing things about the festival.

poyboy | 3:06 PM

I agree. This is very disappointing. There was obviously so much room to grow with the festival - the centrally located venues were perfect for a walkable festival and there was so much excitement & support this first year. Surely, Lone Star won't only last 1 year?