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Alamo Drafthouse’s Fantastic Fest Announces New Female-Led Board in Wake of Harassment Claims

In the wake of sexual harassment claims and a year mired by controversy, the event has appointed a new board to push into the future.

Suki-Rose Simakis at the Fantastic Fest “Fantastic Debates” event

More than two months after a series of scandals rocked Texas-based theater chain Alamo Drafthouse and its annual film festival Fantastic Fest, the Austin festival has unveiled a brand-new board of directors led by some of the event’s most well-known female personalties and long-time employees. The new board will be led by Kristen Bell as chair, further cementing her place as an essential part of both the Alamo Drafthouse and Fantastic Fest, as she has been involved with both entities since the early-aughts and has held multiple leadership roles over those many years.

Bell will be joined on the board by actor and film buff Elijah Wood, film writer and programmer Kier-la Janisse, film curator and producer Peter Kuplowsky, and producer Suki-Rose Simakis.

Per the official announcement of the new board on the Fantastic Fest website, “The board of directors’ goal is to further enhance and refine the experience of the festival and to provide the best, most open and inclusive environment for our family of film-loving fanatics. The first meeting is under our belts and we will be in touch soon with some of the steps the festival will be taking in response to the survey and festival feedback we have received as we plan out the 2018 edition. As part of our first year’s strategic plan we will be working together to identify additional board members to diversify and bolster the board even further to meet the goals of our growth mission. We appreciate your patience as we sift through all the comments and work within this new infrastructure.”

In mid-September, just days before the 2017 edition of the genre festival was set to open, it was revealed that Devin Faraci, who stepped down as editor-in-chief of the Drafthouse’s Birth.Movies.Death website following sexual assault allegations last year, had quietly been rehired by the company as a copywriter months later and even written blurbs for this year’s edition of the festival. The news ignited further controversy, prompting Faraci to depart Alamo once more and Fox Searchlight to pull its sexual assault-centric drama “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” from the lineup.

In the following days, Ain’t It Cool News editor and festival co-founder Harry Knowles pulled out of the festival, a curious decision that later led to the revelation of at least five allegations of sexual assault and harassment against Knowles himself. The news had a profound effect on both the Alamo Drafthouse and Fantastic Fest, and outspoken words by a number of female fans and journalists in attendance at the event helped make it clear that positive change was on the top of everyone’s mind.

At long last, it seems as if some of those changes are finally coming into effect.

In an official statement, Bell said,“Developing a Board of Directors for Fantastic Fest has been a longtime goal of mine and I’m incredibly excited to see it realized. Moreover, I am honored and humbled to have such an esteemed and accomplished group of folks join me in embracing this opportunity to grow and change the festival with their unique perspectives, ideas and experiences. Our shared passion for incredible genre cinema and our collective dedication to building an even more awesome, more inclusive Fantastic Fest will lead the way as we set our sights on the future.”

Simakis added, “I am incredibly honored and excited to be joining the newly formed board of Fantastic Fest. What I saw and experienced while in Austin this past fall was difficult yet encouraging, a first of many needed steps to make Fantastic Fest better for everyone and to dismantle any toxicity within our culture as film fans. I consider joining this board to be a serious responsibility, a responsibility to the community that holds Fantastic Fest up and is the core of its spirit. I am looking forward to doing the difficult work and to propelling the festival forward. I can’t wait to see what we can accomplish together as a board, staff, fans, filmmakers, community and all. Let’s make it Fantastic.”

In September, Simakis wrote about her experience for IndieWire, noting “I can say that openly addressing the issues, communicating face to face, and hearing everyone out felt immensely empowering, positive, and, most importantly, productive. It drove home for me that taking this conversation out of the online space and into face-to-face environments is an incredibly powerful communication tool. It confirmed for me that the only way these conversations were going to happen was if we showed up and had them.”

She added, “I see a festival that wants to do better, so I’m making it a point to keep my lines of communication open, send Fantastic Fest my thoughts on how it can do better, and continue the dialogue for next year.”

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