Star-Bulletin Features

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

HIFF board member
quits after feud

By Tim Ryan

A Hawaii International Film Festival board member and the organization's largest private cash contributor has resigned following his failed attempt to oust executive director Chuck Boller.

HIFF Dwight Damon, who led the charge two years ago to have then-executive director Christian Gaines fired, resigned last month.

Damon, chairman of HIFF's programming committee, was one of the most influential members on the 30-member board, in large part because of his $65,000 annual cash contribution to the festival, his connection with major HIFF sponsor First Hawaiian Bank and his film-selection duties.

Damon resigned primarily because the board decided to retain Boller for another year, said Jeff Portnoy, board president. "Dwight had a problem in the way Chuck was running the festival," Portnoy said. "He disagreed with Chuck's management and organization style."

Damon, who has been involved in HIFF for more than a decade, has not said whether he will withdraw his annual contribution. However, Portnoy and several other board members who requested anonymity believe that will be the case. Board members do not believe First Hawaiian Bank, which sponsors the Golden Maile Awards, will withdraw its contribution. Damon was primarily responsible for getting the bank involved in HIFF.

The festival last month picked up a major sponsor in Louis Vuitton, which will contribute an undisclosed amount for two years. In turn, the festival is new called "Louis Vuitton Hawaii Presents the Hawaii International Film Festival."

Boller, who is attending the Berlin Film Festival, was not available for comment. Damon did not return a message left at his business, the Movie Museum in Kaimuki.

The feud between Damon and Boller over festival management had been simmering for months, even prior to last November's main event, Portnoy said.

"Dwight was unable to extricate himself from running the festival. He saw it as his baby."

But unlike his coup against Gaines, in which Damon enlisted HIFF staff to help oust the embattled director, this time he was alone. The staff and board support Boller and HIFF is stronger financially, other board members said.

Although Damon had a list of possible successors to Boller, Portnoy said, "There was never, ever, any consideration that Chuck was going to be let go. The festival is bigger than (Damon) or anyone else."

Damon notified Portnoy in writing and by telephone about his resignation several weeks before the January board meeting, Portnoy said.

Another reason Damon resigned was the board's decision to have the festival's film selection now fall under Boller's duties "with some board input," Portnoy said.

"Dwight saw (film programming) as something he had had success with and he wanted to be the person most responsible for that," Portnoy said. "The board overwhelmingly believes this reorientation is best for the festival."

While the board approved retaining Boller for the 2002 festival, a review committee has been examining a "detailed list" of complaints lodged by Damon about last November's event, Portnoy said.

The 2001 HIFF festival drew 57,000 people, a 7 percent increase over the previous year. Final dollar figures on funds raised are not yet available.

Gaines, who was hired from Sundance to become HIFF director in 1996, is now executive director of the American Film Institute's Los Angeles International Film Festival.

Boller, HIFF's former managing director, is the third executive director in the organization's 21-year history.

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