A Sexual Harassment Scandal Imploded Cinefamily. Can It Be Saved?
Illustration by Darrick Rainey

A Sexual Harassment Scandal Imploded Cinefamily. Can It Be Saved?

William Morris was a 19-year-old college freshman in rural southern Iowa when he became obsessed with an art-house movie theater more than 1,500 miles away in Los Angeles. It was the week before Halloween in 2007, and Cinefamily had just opened in the former Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax Avenue. Morris read on a message board about one of its debut double features — billed as “Homophobia,” it paired two classic horror movies based on their gay undertones — and was immediately struck by Cinefamily’s smart, provocative programming. To cinephiles like him, there was nothing else like it in the country. Throughout college and in the years after, he followed its events compulsively online, becoming so fixated on the theater that he eventually decided it was his destiny to work there.

“My literal life hope and dream was to move to L.A. and get to program at Cinefamily,” Morris recalls today. “I was like, ‘Fuck this place. I either have to pretend it doesn’t exist or just go and try to work there.’ And so that’s what I did.”

In the spring of 2015, Morris had been in Los Angeles for just a couple of days when a friend sent him a job posting for an assistant programmer at Cinefamily. He says he’d already accepted a position as a production assistant for Turner Classic Movies’ film festival when he heard back from Cinefamily: They wanted to hire him, even though he’d never programmed a movie and his only previous experience consisted of managing the box office at film festivals. When the film festival ended, Morris dropped everything and took the gig.

He says that in the year that followed, it was not uncommon for him to pull double shifts, from morning until well after midnight. “Cinefamily attracts really, really eager people who want to give every single bit of themselves to the place. I wasn’t an anomaly by any stretch,” he says. “That’s the magic and the curse of Cinefamily, the endless hunger [that] keeps it going and keeps it exciting.”

For Morris, the magic ended last August, when he says he witnessed something that shook his faith in the institution he long admired. He was walking from the theater’s back patio to its front door when he claims to have seen Shadie Elnashai, then vice president of Cinefamily’s board, drunkenly wrap his arms around a female employee who was working the concession stand. Morris says he watched Elnashai “putting his hands on this person and then putting his hands off, taking a step back, and then laughing and doing it again” — even after she told him to stop.

“I was furious,” Morris recalls. “I talked to that person [the employee] and they said they didn’t want anyone to know.”

Morris says it wasn’t the first time he saw Elnashai touch a young female employee in a way that seemed inappropriate. He claims that 10 months earlier, in October 2015, he’d seen Elnashai drunkenly wrap his arms around an employee, Melanie Ghaffari, during a Cinefamily Halloween party that was open to the public.

“He put his hands on this person’s waist and then they pushed him away,” Morris says. “Then he came up again and slid his hands a little bit further up and then [they] pushed him away.”

William Morris is not the only employee to claim that women were treated inappropriately at Cinefamily, but he is one of the few who complained to management in writing.
William Morris is not the only employee to claim that women were treated inappropriately at Cinefamily, but he is one of the few who complained to management in writing.
Ted Soqui

Ghaffari confirms that the unwanted interaction between her and Elnashai took place. “Shadie came up to me while I was working the concession stand and kind of wrapped his arm around me — I don’t even remember specifically if it was my back or lower back, where his arm was — and I distinctly told him, ‘Please stop, I’m working right now,’” she recalls. “He was wasted, like totally drunk, and kind of wandered off.”

Morris is not the only employee to claim that women were treated inappropriately at Cinefamily, but he is one of the few who complained to management in writing. On Sept. 5, 2016, less than a month after he witnessed the second incident , Morris sent a complaint to Cinefamily’s executive managing director, Trevor Jones, alleging that employees had been inappropriately touched and describing the work environment as a “thriving rape culture.”

Days later, Jones responded: “I have related the contents of your report to Shadie Elnashai and I have informed him that effective immediately he is prohibited from any romantic or physical interaction with any female employees or volunteers of the Cinefamily. The action taken on this issue is the most severe response we can take on an indirect report.”

Jones stated that there was not much else he could do because the alleged victim was not able or willing to speak to him: “Please know that I will always make myself available to speak to her, or anyone who has a report of sexual misconduct, abuse or any inappropriate behavior.”

Regarding the “rape culture” claim, Jones stated: “This statement is of grave concern to me and needs to be dealt with ... aggressively. As such, I will be formalizing a code of conduct regarding sexual harassment and make it mandatory for staff and volunteers to read and acknowledge.” He also stated that he would hold a sexual harassment meeting with the staff “to ensure everyone understands what constitutes sexual harassment and understands that they are safe to report it.”

Morris says he felt sunk and defeated when he received Jones’ response, which he says excused Elnashai and failed to fully discourage future harassment. Three weeks later, Morris announced he was leaving Cinefamily — disgusted, he says, by Elnashai getting a pass.

Now, a year later, what started as an internal work issue at the popular theater has ballooned into a public scandal that has rocked not just Cinefamily but the larger indie film community. The allegations of Morris and others came crashing into public view last month, following an anonymous email that showed up in the inboxes of Cinefamily members as well as L.A. filmmakers, cinema programmers, actors and others in their circles. The email’s claims would decimate Cinefamily’s leadership and halt operations at the theater. Its most explosive allegation, that Elnashai had been accused of raping multiple women, is not supported by victims, witnesses or evidence of any kind. But more than a dozen Cinefamily former employees unanimously assert a broader allegation: that Elnashai and Cinefamily’s founder, Hadrian Belove, created an atmosphere in which sexual harassment and abuse of employees were rampant.

According to former volunteer coordinator Jenny Ryan, Belove told her she “needed to be hiring cute young girls that he would want to fuck” and that he “would grumble if I hired someone that he found unattractive.” Former director of operations Nedjelko Spaich says Belove instructed him to fire employees who were not attractive enough. Longtime volunteer Karina Chacham claims to have witnessed Belove receiving oral sex from a Cinefamily volunteer. Former director of development Tina Poppy sued Belove and Cinefamily in 2014 for gender discrimination, sexual harassment, assault and battery, among other complaints. And two former employees — Hayley Pogue and Mario Muñoz — claim they too were physically assaulted by Belove.

Belove is legally barred from commenting on the lawsuit, but he responded to the other claims in a statement: “These allegations are completely false. I did not seek to hire employees because I wanted to date them, or fire employees because of their appearance. I made personnel decisions while acting in the best interests of Cinefamily, which was my top priority.”

Like other Cinefamily hires, Pogue was a fan of the theater long before she started working there. She became a devout Cinefamily black card carrier — members paid a monthly flat fee for perks including free admission to all screenings — as soon as she moved to Los Angeles in 2010 from Nashville, where she had worked at an art-house theater while in college. “I love this place,” she recalls of her first interactions at Cinefamily. “I just feel called to go there.”

At 30, Pogue thought she was way too old to be an intern when Muñoz, then Cinefamily’s volunteer coordinator, offered her the gig in March 2013. But she was willing to take the unpaid position if it meant the opportunity to advance within an organization she admired. After volunteering full-time for four months, she was hired in July of that year as Muñoz’s assistant, with a starting wage of $10 an hour. “I was working there, living there and partying there, sleeping there sometimes on the couch because it’s easier than leaving,” she says.

To her, working at Cinefamily was exhilarating: the heavy workload, the manic energy, the constant chaos and the hard partying. The stakes felt high and the pressure higher.

Hayley Pogue recalls that her boss, Hadrian Belove, complained about needing “someone attractive … someone we want to talk to” at staff meetings.
Hayley Pogue recalls that her boss, Hadrian Belove, complained about needing “someone attractive … someone we want to talk to” at staff meetings.
Ted Soqui

But without a clear job description or title, Pogue says the work became overwhelming: One minute she was wrangling volunteers, the next she was managing social media and running personal errands for Belove. And no matter how many hours Pogue put in or how many times she felt she’d proved herself, she claims that Belove barred her from taking on higher-level jobs and working directly with clients because of the way she looked. “I’m a size 14,” she says. “I’m a chubby little dumpling. I’m adorable but I’m not sexy in any way, and it became a struggle over [Belove] making sure I had no power in my job.”

She recalls Belove complaining about needing “someone attractive … someone we want to talk to” at staff meetings. “And then Tina [Poppy] shows up,” Pogue says. “Tina is beautiful.”

Poppy’s tenure was short-lived. She was hired in November 2013 and fired seven months later, according to the lawsuit she filed in June 2014. In it, she alleged she was let go as an act of retaliation for reporting that Belove sexually harassed her. The lawsuit, which also included complaints of wage and hour violations, gender discrimination, assault and battery, alleged that “Cinefamily knew that Belove was unfit to be put in a position of authority over women.”

Belove was first contacted by L.A. Weekly in March. “Those are some very serious allegations,” he wrote in reference to claims that former employees were mistreated on the job. “Cinefamily is a close-knit community of people who not only care about film but about each other (it’s been a real ‘family’ for sure). There is no place for abuse of any kind.” Cinefamily’s lawyer, Rory Miller, followed up with a letter stating: “The Cinefamily and Mr. Belove are obviously precluded from commenting on” whether the company had received complaints about the work environment.

Miller also declined to comment on Poppy’s lawsuit, citing its out-of-court settlement, which “resolved the episode to all parties’ satisfaction, and all parties agreed to keep the details of the settlement and lawsuit confidential.”

L.A Weekly also requested interviews with Elnashai and Simon Oré, who until recently was Cinefamily’s board president. Neither responded.

In a June phone call, executive managing director Jones defended Cinefamily against allegations of abuse, describing it as “a high-paced, creative environment” and a “demanding place to work.” Since the start of his employment at Cinefamily in November 2015, Jones said, there had been no major incidences reported to HR.

Then, two months later, someone hit “send” on that anonymous email.

“The accusation that me personally or any member of the board or the organization as a whole would cover up or hide a violent sexual attack is actually abhorrent and wholly untrue,” Jones told L.A. Weekly following the fallout from the email, adding that he’s “deeply dismayed” by the email’s accusations and that he reported them to the Los Angeles Police Department. “We are a nonprofit cinematheque. The idea that we would deal with a violent crime of that nature, of that despicable type of violent crime, by doing anything other than call the police is simply outrageous.”

In its 75-year history, the Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax Avenue has seen nearly as much drama, violence and turmoil as the plot of any classic movie projected on its screen. Founded by film collector and archivist John Hampton in 1942 — when silent movies already were a thing of the past — the Old Time Movie theater, as it was called, was a retro oddity even then. After Hampton’s death in 1990, the place was owned over the next several years by a series of cinephiles, each seemingly more eccentric and passionate than the next. One previous owner, Larry Austin, was shot dead in the lobby in 1997 in a murder-for-hire carried out by his own employee, who lived with him in the apartment upstairs.

The seeds for Cinefamily were planted nearly a decade later when brothers Dan and Sammy Harkham — whose fashion and real estate magnate family owns Harkham Industries and Luxe Hotels — bought the theater.

In a June 2006 interview with the Los Angeles Times, the brothers, who also own the quirky art bookstore Family less than two blocks north of the theater on Fairfax, compared their acquisition to two kids buying Disneyland. “It’s every movie nerd’s dream,” Sammy Harkham, an accomplished cartoonist, told the newspaper. Now all they needed was a more experienced movie nerd to run the place. Belove, a co-founder of West L.A.’s CineFile Video rental store, was an easy choice. The Harkhams were CineFile customers, and when Sammy Harkham ran into Belove at Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse Film Festival shortly after purchasing the theater, the venture seemed like a natural partnership, according to a 2010 L.A. Weekly profile of Belove. “I had written this mission statement about L.A.’s need for community meeting places, and how movies are classic communal exercises, like campfires and sporting events,” Belove told the Weekly. Once Cinefamily was up and running, he said, “I was seeing this abstract thing realized, and it was very moving.”

Unlike other local art-house theaters, Cinefamily didn’t just cater to hardcore film buffs or older, monied intellectuals. Instead, it attracted a younger, wider and equally male-female audience.
Unlike other local art-house theaters, Cinefamily didn’t just cater to hardcore film buffs or older, monied intellectuals. Instead, it attracted a younger, wider and equally male-female audience.
Ted Soqui

From the moment it opened, Cinefamily was a big deal. Unlike other local art-house theaters, it didn’t just cater to hardcore film buffs or older, monied intellectuals. Instead, it attracted a younger, wider and equally male-female audience, owing to its popular screenings of both cult classics and more obscure fare made accessible with live performances, boozy afterparties on the back patio and A-list celebrities in attendance. By 2008, the nonprofit’s board of directors, listed on a public tax filing that year, included filmmaker John Cassavetes’ daughter, Xan Cassavetes, a filmmaker in her own right; MGM co-founder Samuel Goldwyn’s granddaughter Liz Goldwyn, who is also an actor and director; and MacArthur Genius Allison Anders, who wrote and directed Gas Food Lodging.

Cinefamily’s ability to reel in movie star talent and legions of rabid fans had become apparent in December 2012, when it enlisted Robert Downey Jr. for its second annual 24-hour telethon-style fundraiser. Downey surprised Belove during the event by announcing he’d buy the theater a new digital projector, estimated to cost between $60,000 and $100,000. By the end of that year, Cinefamily had raised an additional $158,000-plus on Kickstarter — more than exceeding its initial fundraising goal — for building and equipment upgrades. It was a major shift from Cinefamily’s early years, during which it barely broke even and occasionally lost money on operating costs, according to public tax filings.

By 2013, Cinefamily’s fame had skyrocketed, and so had its fundraising efforts: Revenue that year totaled more than $1.4 million, which, after functional expenses, left a net income of more than $78,000 — or nearly seven times that of the previous year. That financial boost was owed in large part to fans like Downey; their charitable contributions in 2013 accounted for nearly a third of Cinefamily’s total revenue.

In 2015, the L.A. County Arts Commission awarded Cinefamily a $42,500 grant — one of the largest amounts it contributed to any nonprofit that year — to support programming and staff salaries.

“There is no theater past or present on earth that could have conceivably done certain things [that Cinefamily did], and I feel very proud of that,” says former programming director Bret Berg. “Hadrian is an incredible conceptualist, and he’s had a long list of great ideas that have panned out fruitfully.”

Former staffers remember the 2012 telethon as one of Cinefamily’s proudest achievements. But that morale-boosting, fundraising success was followed by a series of lows at Cinefamily that sometimes escalated into office shouting matches and allegedly worse.

“Hadrian full on fucking grabbed me and dragged me down a hallway and screamed in my face,” claims Muñoz, who says he worked as a volunteer coordinator at Cinefamily for three years until getting fired — without reason, he maintains — in April 2015. Muñoz alleges that Belove became enraged one day when he returned from a trip to find that the office hadn’t been cleaned. “He grabbed me so hard that my wrists hurt for a couple of days,” Muñoz claims, though he never reported the incident to the police or documented his injuries.

Mario Muñoz alleges that Belove became enraged one day when the office hadn’t been cleaned: “He grabbed me so hard that my wrists hurt for a couple of days.
Mario Muñoz alleges that Belove became enraged one day when the office hadn’t been cleaned: “He grabbed me so hard that my wrists hurt for a couple of days.
Ted Soqui

Zena Grey, a Cinefamily employee at the time, says she saw Belove grab Muñoz by the wrists and drag him. Pogue, who also was working that day, says she didn’t see what happened but that she heard the altercation from the hallway nearby and rushed over to console Muñoz.

Muñoz says he didn’t show up for work the rest of the week but eventually returned; he says he felt a sense of personal responsibility to the distributors, filmmakers and volunteers who had already committed to upcoming events scheduled months in advance.

Pogue claims she, too, was physically assaulted by Belove, for what she alleges was an equally minor provocation: The coffee had not yet been made in the office when Belove walked in. “[I] was dragged by my arm to the coffee machine and forced to make coffee,” she says. “Unless you have ‘make coffee’ in my job description, I’m not going to do it.”

Spaich, who worked there from August 2012 to November 2013, says he witnessed the interaction. “He once grabbed Hayley by the arms and pulled her all the way to the coffee machine,” Spaich says. “I saw that happen. [Belove was] saying, ‘You’re the office secretary, this is the office coffee machine.’”

Asked if there were ever instances in which he became physically abusive toward members of his staff, Belove responded in an Aug. 29 email, through publicist Stuart Pfeifer at Sitrick and Company, “No. I am not a violent person. I do not condone violence — in the workplace, or anywhere else.”

Both Pogue and Muñoz say that when they read the lawsuit Poppy filed against Belove, they felt a sense of vindication, because they believed their own experiences of alleged assault and retaliation were similar to the ones Poppy alleged. “I was shaking because there were some details in there that were dead on that I wasn’t able to articulate,” says Pogue, who only read the lawsuit last month, after screenshots of it were included in the anonymous email. Says Muñoz: “It was very similar to what happened to me.”

According to the lawsuit, Belove and another Cinefamily employee booked Belove and Poppy to sleep in the same one-bed hotel room during a January 2014 work trip to the Sundance Film Festival and Art House Convergence conference. When Poppy voiced her objections about the sleeping arrangements, the complaint alleges, she was told to “make do” because Cinefamily wouldn’t pay for an additional room. The lawsuit claimed that this was part of “a repeated pattern and practice by Belove of sexual harassment” that included inappropriate comments, such as one Belove allegedly made in front of several board members during a private screening in February 2014: “Here is Tina — isn’t she beautiful and stylish! If you are lucky maybe she will give you her telephone number!”

According to the lawsuit, the alleged sexual harassment escalated to physical assault in May 2014, when Belove kicked Poppy, stomped on her foot, grabbed her by the shoulders and pushed her. The lawsuit alleges she was attacked because she didn’t give Belove the attention he demanded while at a bar.

When Poppy reported the alleged attack and the other preceding alleged harassment to Cinefamily, according to the lawsuit, “She was made to feel as if it was her fault, she was forced to confront her attacker, and she was constructively terminated when Cinefamily refused to guaranty [sic] her a safe working environment and told her it was her responsibility to figure it out.” The lawsuit claims that Cinefamily took no action to stop or prevent further incidents of sexual harassment from occurring within the company.

“I could tell you that it was good versus evil again,” James Wohl, Poppy’s attorney, said in a phone call before declining to elaborate further. “Everybody was reasonably unhappy, but they agreed to it,” he said of the settlement, referencing its confidentiality agreement. “Everybody felt equally about how the terms and conditions came out.”

Poppy is not the only person to have taken legal action against Belove. On Dec. 21, 2015, Uber driver Leopold Soares filed a legal claim against Belove for loss of wages and damages after driving him from Cinefamily to LACMA the month before. Having previously attended screenings at Cinefamily, Soares immediately recognized his passenger by his distinct first name. “I said, ‘Oh my God, I’m such a fan of Cinefamily. So many fantastic things I’ve watched there,’” he says he gushed to Belove. But when he asked if Belove could refrain from eating a pastry in his new car, Soares recalls, “It escalated really fast with his temper.” Belove got out of the car and “spilled the entire hot coffee on my back, on my neck, on my face, inside my seat, destroyed my brand-new car,” Soares says.

According to a Nov. 11, 2015, LAPD incident report: “Susp. was riding in vict.’s car who is a Uber driver. Suspect through [sic] a cup of hot coffee on vict. & then fled scene to unk. destination.”

In paperwork filed in the small claims office of the Superior Court of California, Soares sought $10,000 in damages. But the trial, set for Feb. 11, 2016, never took place — the result of L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputy Benita Villasenor’s three failed attempts to serve Belove with the claim. Each time she showed up to Cinefamily, she was told he was either out of town or not in the office and didn’t have any set schedule, according to paperwork processed last January.

Cinefamily’s lawyer, Miller, wrote in a letter to L.A. Weekly that the legal claim had been taken out of context. “In fact, the Los Angeles Police Department took no action on the driver’s complaint, the driver never filed suit, and no settlement was ever made,” he wrote. In a subsequent letter to the L.A. Weekly, Miller called Soares’ allegation of battery “substantially overstated.”

“In short," Miller wrote in the first letter, "there is no ‘there there.’”

The subject line on the Aug. 21 email sent from the cryptically named “501 Cinefamily Think” stated: “A Message Regarding Cinefamily.”

It got right to the point:

“Shadie Elnashai, as you may know, is the VP of the Board of Directors at Cinefamily, Managing Director at Sandwich Video and a magician at the Magic Castle. He is well regarded as a generous, nice guy.

“Shadie is also accused of raping multiple women, all verbally threatened and scared into silence after the assaults.”

The email also alluded to a programmer (later confirmed to be Morris) who in 2016 reported an assault to Belove, Jones and Cinefamily board president Oré.

“These three men jointly buried the accusation and made it go away,” the email claimed. “The programmer and other employees who were aware of the situation resigned due to upper management’s dangerous negligence.”

The email also included excerpts from Poppy’s lawsuit.

“Over 10 years, Hadrian Belove has been accused of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse by former employees and volunteers,” the email alleged. “It is a deep seated behavior pattern that many in the community are already aware of.”

In a statement posted to Twitter the next day, Cinefamily announced that both Belove and Elnashai had resigned. “Our non-profit organization has zero tolerance for any action intended to harm or injure our staff, volunteers, or patrons,” the statement read. It encouraged anyone who experienced harassment at Cinefamily to get in touch via email or to contact the LAPD directly.

(In an email to L.A. Weekly on Aug. 31, LAPD confirmed that there were “no active crime reports in which Elnashai has been listed as a suspect.”)

The same day Cinefamily’s statement was circulated, Belove posted a public statement on his Facebook page, writing that Cinefamily takes the claims extremely seriously and that the anonymous email was “full of demonstrable lies and half-truths, and allegations without known victims.” “No known women have filed claims about anything like what this email alleges, and it’s even more disturbing that it states that our management has engaged to cover anything up,” Belove wrote. “No evidence, no victims, not even the guts to put their own name down as a third party with nothing to lose.”

Hadrian Belove described the allegations against him and Cinefamily as part of an aggressive campaign from disgruntled ex-employees.
Hadrian Belove described the allegations against him and Cinefamily as part of an aggressive campaign from disgruntled ex-employees.
Kevin Scanlon

In his statement on Facebook and in a separate statement to L.A. Weekly, Belove described the allegations as part of an aggressive campaign from disgruntled ex-employees. “Over the last decade, I terminated the employment of many people — some for performance; some because of the theater’s financial problems — and sadly many of these bitter ex-employees and their friends have banded together and sought to hurt me through a campaign of false accusations to the media,” Belove wrote in his Aug. 29 statement to the Weekly, through Pfeifer, his publicist. “This ongoing campaign by former employees had gone on for nearly a year, and was traumatic and disruptive for the people I worked with, and love, and was hurting our ability to fundraise as a non-profit. I hoped that by stepping down, the criticism would be on me, and not the theater, and would help save the theater.”

Ryan, who was employed at Cinefamily between 2011 and 2012, says the ex-employees who have spoken to the media over the past two weeks have been anything but organized. “Another claim that’s going around is that everyone who has spoken out is a bitter ex-employee who got fired. That’s not the case,” she says, adding that she left of her own volition after the birth of her daughter. “It’s just another way, I think, of deflecting and trying to discredit what people are saying.”

The anonymous email may have garnered the brunt of media coverage, owing to its explosive yet unsubstantiated rape accusations, but it also distracts from “all the claims that have come out, first-person accounts since then,” Ryan says.

News of Belove’s resignation was reported widely by both local and national media. LAist and IndieWire, the film industry news website, published stories on Aug. 22 that detailed Belove’s and Elnashai’s resignations and the allegations that prompted them. The following day brought coverage from the Los Angeles Times and Jezebel, with the latter quoting multiple employees who described the environment as cultlike and created specifically so that Belove could prey upon young women. A week later, on Aug. 28, BuzzFeed News published a report after interviewing 17 former employees, many of whom described a workplace rife with sexual harassment. A screenshot of a private message published by BuzzFeed News appears to show Cinefamily board president Oré accusing Belove of hiring a female staffer because he “wants to fuck her.”

Boycotts of Cinefamily were suggested on Twitter by independent journalist Molly Lambert, RogerEbert.com editor-in-chief and New York magazine TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz and actor-comedian Kate Berlant, all of whom announced they would not return to the theater until further management changes were made. The L.A. nonprofit screening series Acropolis Cinema moved its scheduled film screening from Cinefamily to the Downtown Independent, and the popular calendar app 5 Every Day announced it would no longer feature Cinefamily events. Academy Award winner Brie Larson, a co-founder of the annual Women of Cinefamily event, posted a statement on Twitter: “Cinefamily prides itself on being a space of safety and communion — it is time for further action to be taken to ensure that,” she wrote.

Cinefamily has its share of high-profile defenders, including producer Alicia Van Couvering, whose producing credits include Lena Dunham’s debut feature, Tiny Furniture; the Joe Swanberg film Drinking Buddies; and the Kevin Bacon thriller Cop Car. “I’m extremely proud to be in the Cinefamily,” Van Couvering tweeted on Aug. 22, “and believe that trial by twitter + facebook mobs are destructive to all humans involved.”

Director William Friedkin, whose films include The Exorcist, The French Connection and To Live and Die in L.A., also shared his support of Cinefamily: “A sad day for Cinefamily that Hadrian Belove, it’s [sic] co-founder, was forced out by ‘anonymous sources.’ I support Hadrian,” he tweeted on Aug. 24.

In a statement posted to Twitter on Aug. 26, the board of Cinefamily announced it had hired an independent third party, Giles Miller at Lynx Insights & Investigations, to conduct an investigation into “any alleged impropriety.” Cinefamily also temporarily suspended all operations “in order to allow for the investigation and necessary restructure of management and the board,” according to the statement. “We want to reassure our members and staff that the board will take all steps available to us to restore their faith in the Cinefamily.”

Through a spokesperson, the board declined to comment beyond its official statement. A source with knowledge of the board, who asked not to be named, said some board members were never previously made aware of the allegations in the email and were blindsided once they became public. The source said the board suspended operations while it determines whether the organization should be shut down or whether it is salvageable.

On Aug. 17, Ghaffari received a text from Belove: He urgently needed to speak with her. Ghaffari hadn’t worked at Cinefamily for more than a year and says the text from her former boss seemed “completely out of the blue.” It wasn’t until she got on a phone call with Belove and then–board president Oré that she discovered she’d been identified as Elnashai’s rape victim in an anonymous email that had been sent out prior to the more widely cited Aug. 21 email; in the latter, all names had been removed except for those of the accused.

Ghaffari was shocked about the email claim. She told Belove and Oré on the phone that while Elnashai had made unwelcome physical advances, she had not been raped by him.

“Beyond, like — I hate to say ‘casual groping’ — but beyond the drunken touches and stuff, I have never been sexually or verbally assaulted by Shadie,” Ghaffari says. “So whoever wrote this email, I’m really not sure if they confused me for someone else, heard it through the grapevine, or combined different stories.”

Ghaffari says Belove sounded relieved after she told him the email’s rape accusation involving her was false.
“I was like, ‘But wait, this is really concerning,’” Ghaffari recalls of the phone conversation. “I don’t think this is an environment that was healthy, especially for females.”

Asked about the future of Cinefamily, Jones says: “I think that there needs to be a lot of changes, and I think we will continue to work to make Cinefamily a better and safer place. We’ll continue to speak out and address the community and all of its concerns, we’ll continue to collaborate with the police and ensure that any victims of assaults are taken care of.”

Ghaffari says she hopes that’s true.

“What’s important in my opinion is that this is finally all surfacing,” she says. “The only thing I can hope is that if Cinefamily does happen again, that it can foster a community of comfort, of safety, where strangers who love film can come in and actually feel like a family.”

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