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Film Festivals Face a #MeToo Dilemma: Should Accused Harassers Be Banned?

Cinefamily head Hadrian Belove attended last month's SXSW after being hit by sexual abuse allegations, stirring up emotions and unnerving attendees. It won't be the last time.

The Paramount TheatrePreparations, SXSW Festival, Austin, USA - 08 Mar 2018

The Paramount Theatre

Michael Buckner/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

At this year’s SXSW Film Festival, there was at least one attendee who made some people uncomfortable. Ousted Cinefamily owner Hadrian Belove came to Austin with a SXSW badge, six months after allegations of sexual abuse and harassment led to his departure from the Los Angeles independent cinema he founded.

No one suggested Belove did anything wrong at SXSW, but several women told IndieWire they thought his alleged transgressions provided reason enough to expel him. Lee Jameson, a longtime Cinefamily member and a former volunteer, tweeted March 14:  “how can @sxsw claim to support and focus on tackling sexual harassment issues this year and still allow someone like Hadrian Belove to be an accredited attendee and make women feel unsafe?”

As the film community approaches the Tribeca Film Festival, Cannes, and other major film events to come this year, it’s an issue that’s bound to come up in the wake of #MeToo: What happens when accused harrasers resurface in the film community — and what responsibility, if any, do organizers have to control that inevitability?

Freelance critic Monica Castillo, who writes for women-centric site The Lily and also tweeted about Belove’s attendance, was concerned that some of Belove’s alleged victims, many of them still active in the film community, might have unexpectedly encountered him. “Some of the people he may have hurt might of been in attendance,” she said. “How must they feel about seeing him in line or at an SXSW-sponsored event?”

Belove is one of several controversial figures in the independent film world. Former Birth.Movies.Death. editor-in-chief Devin Faraci, who left the Alamo Drafthouse in late 2016 amid sexual assault allegations, quietly started a new film blog. Alamo Drafthouse associate and Ain’t It Cool News founder Harry Knowles announced a temporary departure from his site last fall after multiple women accused him of harrassment and assault, although he’s rumored to still write on the site under an alternate byline.

Read More: Alamo Drafthouse Has Minimized Sexual Assault and Harassment Allegations for Decades — Report

In the fallout, many film organizations have taken steps to protect themselves and their audiences. According to several people with knowledge of the theater chain’s operations, Knowles has been barred from Austin locations of Alamo Drafthouse, which announced its own code of conduct in January. Its affiliated Fantastic Fest revealed a new, female-led board of directors in November with the express goal “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.”

Before this year’s festival, Sundance added both a new code of conduct and a 24-hour safety hotline for concerned attendees or actual victims. Tribeca now has a slightly revised code of conduct that reads, in part: “Tribeca is dedicated to providing an enjoyable, respectful and harassment-free experience for all attendees. We do not condone discrimination, sexism or abusive language and behavior that is degrading to another person or group.” This year’s festival will also play home to the first large-scale New York event from the team behind Time’s Up, with a full day of events and discussions scheduled for its NYC hub.

SXSW has its own code of conduct, which asserts that “SXSW is not a place for behavior that is intentionally inappropriate, off-topic, disruptive, or abusive.” The code also notes that “SXSW may take action in its discretion to address any individual(s) or group(s) it believes fail to meet the standards set forth in this Code of Conduct, including but not limited to revoking the violating parties’ credentials without refund.” A SXSW Attendee Safety Advice guide is also available.

harvey sundance

Harvey Weinstein at the Sundance Film Festival


Of course, a code of conduct is nothing without action and information to back it up. Castillo believes the onus for ensuring a comfortable environment for attendees rests on the institution.

“I refuse to believe they don’t have a ‘do not allow’ list in the festival that blocks unwanted guests and troublemakers,” she said. “How hard is it to keep up with the trades and find out who you might not feel comfortable admitting into your festival?”

While it might be a tall order to expect SXSW and other events like it to regulate the list of thousands of people who chase badges at the for-profit event, it’s even dicier territory for an event to maintain and enforce a blacklist.

Alison Wilkey, director of public policy at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Prisoner Reentry Institute, said that a private event has the “complete authority or discretion to admit anyone or deny admission to the festival as long as they’re not doing it based on a protected characteristic, so as long as it’s not race-based or gender-based, or based on disability, all the protected classes.”

However, Wilkey expressed serious concern over private events using their own criteria to keep out people, particularly those who have yet to be charged or convicted with crimes. “I can also see how that could be completely abused,” Wilkey said. “You could think about all kinds of ways that they could deny people based on allegations or based on their own personal beliefs about certain kinds of people that don’t rise to the level of protected discrimination.”

Wilkey also cautioned that criminal background checks, floated by some as a possible way to weed out attendees with criminal backgrounds, are expensive and don’t always provide the best or most accurate information. “The criminal-records databases, even when they’re government-based or government-run, are rife with errors,” she said. “There have been numerous lawsuits against these companies for reporting incorrect information because they don’t check their information. To think that a festival would be making some kind of a determination based on records that are incomplete, and without giving the person the ability to actually challenge that record, is incredibly problematic.”

Jameson, who has worked at film festivals in Los Angeles for years, says some “do take a stand and have told abusers ‘you are no longer welcome in this space.’ It’s at their discretion to keep out patrons or guests that have a history of abuse or make other paying attendees feel uncomfortable or unsafe. The challenge is developing a system for communication with the ticketing staff, as they may not be aware of red flags when distributing credentials. At the very least, when attendees band together and voice concern, like they did at SXSW this year, festivals should listen and take action to keep their event a safe, welcoming space for everyone.”

SXSW public relations head Jody Arlington declined to clarify whether Belove purchased the badge or registered for accreditation himself. “We learned via Twitter that Hadrian Belove was a registered attendant,” Arlington wrote in an email. “Safety is a top priority at SXSW and creating a secure and inclusive environment is of paramount importance. We reached out to Belove and received no response.” Belove did not respond to a request for comment.

Castillo hopes that the festival will speak out about the incident, and use it as a way to reestablish their aims. “Ideally, I would like some sort of a statement and gesture/plan of action that would let us know in the film, music, and tech communities that people who abuse others are not welcome at SXSW,” she said.

And sometimes, a complex issue can be rendered simple. Late last year, Sundance director John Cooper was asked by the Salt Lake Tribune if Harvey Weinstein would be welcome back should he ever apply for credentials again. “Harvey has been a fixture at Sundance for years,” Cooper said. “Is he still welcome? He is not.”

At the April 12 press conference announcing the lineup for the Cannes Film Festival, artistic director Thierry Fremaux also addressed Weinstein, saying that the festival “will never be the same” in the wake of revelations about the mogul’s behavior, but did not discuss whether he would be invited back.

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