Don't cut lucrative film office


POSTED: Monday, September 07, 2009

Gov. Linda Lingle explained in an Internet speech her plans for “;reshaping and right-sizing”; of state government functions, but her decision to gut the Hawaii Film Office remains puzzling. The office has been instrumental in generating up to $200 million a year in expenditures in Hawaii by the film industry and virtually eliminating it is equivalent to doing away with the position of cashier.

In a nearly five-hour public hearing Thursday, Ted Liu, the state director of business, economic development and tourism, attempted to defend the layoff notices handed to film commissioner Donne Dawson and three of the four Film Office employees, but he was less than convincing.

Georja Skinner, Liu's director of creative industries, tried to shift the blame to the Hawaii Government Employees Association for its rejection of three-day-a-month furloughs of state employees, but that explanation is inadequate.

Dawson told a state House committee in a crowded hearing room that she has “;no doubt that without the Hawaii Film Office, all of this potential business will take their millions and go someplace else.”; Dawson has been the film commissioner since 2001 and has developed a close relationship with filmmakers in her office's processing of film permits and tax credit applications.

Local entertainer Willie K., organizers of the Hawaii International Film Festival and the producers of “;Lost,”; entering its sixth and final season, warned the committee that dismantling the Film Office will send a wrong message to the industry.

Liu said the office's duties can be transferred to other specialists elsewhere in his department. As for Dawson's removal, he told the Star-Bulletin's Allison Schaefers, “;There was a face before Donne, and there will be a face after Donne,”; a clear message that if and when the position of film commissioner is restored, Dawson will not be rehired.

Liu rejected the notion that the layoffs decision was politically motivated. Dawson contributed $4,600 last year to Barack Obama's presidential campaign and gave $1,000 in 2007 toward the re-election of U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono. Lingle campaigned on the mainland for fellow Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona in last year's general election campaign. Hirono was Lingle's Democratic opponent in the 2002 gubernatorial campaign.

State law requires the Film Office to be open and functioning, and legislators are rightly concerned that the layoffs would effectively shut it down. Eliminating the job of commissioner is tantamount to closing the office. Lingle should reverse her decision to eliminate four of the five Film Office positions to assure continued film expenditures.