AFI FEST Free Admission: The Dark Side 

Wednesday, Nov 4 2009

Last week’s cover story (“What If Movies Were Free?” by Weekly film editor Scott Foundas, Oct. 28) focused on the AFI FEST’s decision to make most tickets to the weeklong festival free. Not everyone, such as B from Los Angeles, was thrilled:

“While I applaud the AFI organization for wanting to attract filmgoers in a recession year, the way things were (dis)organized for the ticketing was abominable. Three out of three calls to AFI FEST resulted in different answers. The advance ticketing for AFI members did not work as planned; I did not receive my link until late afternoon and by then, all the gala showings were booked.

“Furthermore, on the day the tickets were released to the general public, again the online ticketing malfunctioned and caused many who had been eagerly anticipating ‘get tickets’ were left without any chances of seeing any of the films they wanted.

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The most egregious part of the free ticketing is that some ticket holders are actually SELLING THEIR FREE TICKETS ON CRAIGSLIST. WTF?! I say go back to selling individual tickets. I, for one, never minded paying the admission price and I’m not wealthy. It is far more equitable that way.”

Jan from Signal Hill concurs: “I also missed out on every movie I wanted to see due to lack of organization. I’d have been happy to pay to see the movies I was so anticipating. I do hope that if AFI chooses this route again next year that they will take steps to make sure that the process is fair to everyone.”

Sindre Kartvedt from Los Angeles had another sort of problem with Foundas’ piece: “So let me get this straight: [Foundas,] one of the programmers of the NY Film Festival, congratulates AFI and [AFI FEST co-director Robert] Koehler for having the good sense to program 50 percent of the NY fest program — and then thinks [New York Times critic] A.O. Scott’s brilliantly accurate explanation of why all film festivals are the same is way off base? And offers two marquee titles not in Koehler’s program by way of rebuttal? The entire point of Foundas’ piece was to point out the circle-jerk nature of the oversaturated festival racket, which in this particular case seems to have been boiled down to the minimum required for a mutual-admiration society. No wonder tickets are free.”

When you use the words riled over in a headline, you’re asking for trouble, as we found out from respondents to Jason S. Mandell’s story on plans for a high-speed train from L.A. to San Francisco (“Riled Over California’s High-Speed Rail,” Oct. 28). As everyone well knows, there are two sides to every set of tracks; on either side of this line, there are the skeptics and there are the believers.

Believer No. 1 is Jeff Barker, deputy director of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, who wrote to us from Sacramento: “This article contains so many inaccuracies when it comes to the very basic facts (such as who sits on the authority’s board and the dates of recent events) that all I can say is: It’s clear we need to do a better job of delivering the facts about this historic and important project to Californians.”

Skeptic No. 1, Martin Engel from Menlo Park, responds to Believer No. 1: “Mr. Barker, you’re correct. Of the 10 individuals the reporter called out as party operatives and partisans, only nine of them serve on the nine-member board; Mehdi Morshed is the executive director. Your correction calls attention to the fact that this problem is not limited to the board, but extends to the CHSRA’s staff as well. In fact, you yourself worked for Governor Schwarzenegger until last month, when you were appointed deputy director — of communications.

“I have trouble ridding my mind of the persistent thought that this project has been, and continues to be the consequence of, backroom politicking, insider ‘trading,’ deception and the determination to mislead the California public.”

Believer No. 2: “Hack journalism,” charges Ray from New York. “Did this reporter just wake up and find himself in California? This initiative was born under a Republican governor, advanced under a Democrat and significantly continued under a Republican (with a Democrat staffer leading the charge). CHSRA has been supported by the state Legislature (under bills co-sponsored by both urban and rural members of the Senate and Assembly). It was then approved by a referendum of the people. The authority’s proposals (business plans, EIRs, substantive designs) are all transparent and out in the open via Web sites, scores of public meetings and hearings, and paid advertising. So no, this isn’t about backroom dealings.

“And then this ... ‘We don’t understand why the rail authority wants to eliminate this option (the I-5 median) at this very early stage.’ NRDC Staff Attorney. Early stage? Are you serious? This is the most ‘advanced’ HSR project in the nation. It’s not at an early stage.

“Hack journalism and misinformation-spreading keep debates raging about subjects that are CLOSED — huge factors that keep California in crisis. The rest of the nation does not function this way. Get your act together.”

Skeptic No. 2, a.k.a. Cynic from L.A.: “It’s a gravy train for consultants. We’ll all be gone by the time the first train runs, and by then the costs will be triple, the consultants and the politicians who would have milked it by billions will be gone too; hence no accountability.”

Believer No. 3, Rob from Los Angeles, gets the last word because he wants two groups arguing over the project to get their act together: “So far, river advocates and HSR authorities have wasted a lot of energy yelling at each other. The public good demands that they work constructively with each other. Myopia on either side of this issue will be devastating.”

On this, we can (finally) agree.

The article “Poor, Ultrarich Tim Leiweke” (Oct. 30) erroneously stated that AEG will install digital billboards at L.A. Live. They will install six lighted, not digital, billboards. Billboards adjacent to freeways can earn $400,000 annually in ad revenues, while digital billboards can earn up to $900,000 in revenues per year.

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