Funding for film festival funneled through Scottsdale City Council


The Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts is at 7380 E. Second St., and up until this coming February was the host of opening night festivities for the Scottsdale International Film Festival (File photo)

The city of Scottsdale and the Scottsdale International Film Festival have entered into an agreement allowing up to $37,500 of taxpayer dollars — funds derived from the Tourism Development Fund — to underwrite the cinema celebration for the next three years.

Scottsdale City Council Wednesday, July 5 unanimously approved the financial agreement, which is embolden through Resolution No. 10838, but records reveal a splintering withing the arts community of Scottsdale.

The Scottsdale International Film Festival is a five-day film event that occurs in November at Harkins Shea 14, 7354 E. Shea Blvd. The film festival is in its 17th year of existence, has showcased more than 500 films from over 60 different countries and has attracted over 90,000 attendees, proponents of the event say.

Over the last five years, the film celebration has taken $66,500 in city funding made available through the municipality’s community event funding program, which is available to local events that help promote the No. 1 industry in town: tourism.

But up until Resolution 10838 the International Film Festival — and the subsequent costs of hosting the event — has been apart of the city’s strategic plan to support the arts of the community adding to the nostalgia of tourism endeavors.

At the helm of the effort was, up until last year, a group of appointees called the Scottsdale Cultural Council, which is now coined, “Scottsdale Arts.”

The chief executive officer and president at Scottsdale Arts is Neale Perl, who oversees and manages the more than $4 million annual General Fund allocation provided by Scottsdale City Council to ultimately support its strategic plan that speaks to the support of the arts in the community.

Up until a few years ago, the Scottsdale International Film Festival was a standalone endeavor until the city agreed to purchase equipment to keep the festival going.

In September 2014, the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts issued a press release announcing a collaboration between Scottsdale Arts, the film festival and the center.

“When arts organizations come together in a spirit of collaboration they can accomplish so much more,” said Mr. Perl in the 2014 statement. “We look forward to a productive partnership what will build on existing strengths, foster innovation and create new opportunities for the arts in Scottsdale.”

Within that announcement, was the naming of Amy Ettinger, Scottsdale International Film Festival founder and executive director, joining the center for the performing arts as its film curator.

Since 2010 the film festival has been hosting its opening night festivities at the Scottsdale Center for Performing Arts, 7380 E. 2nd St.

But a records request reveals Ms. Ettinger is no longer an employee of Scottsdale Arts and the international film festival will no longer be hosting it’s opening night festivities at the center for performing arts, leaving come at City Hall scratching their heads.

The Scottsdale Independent newspaper both July 6 and July 7 made public records requests for any and all email correspondence between Scottsdale City Council and Scottsdale Arts CEO Neale Perl regarding the Scottsdale International Film Festival.

The Scottsdale Cultural Council — now known as Scottsdale Arts — is headquartered at 7373 E. Scottsdale Mall on the second floor. (file photo)

The paper trail

At nearly the end of the business Friday, March 3, Mr. Perl informed Scottsdale City Council Ms. Ettinger would be leaving her position within Scottsdale Arts as the center for performing art’s film curator.

“With her departure, the contractual partnership between both organizations will likewise conclude,” Mr. Perl said in his March 3 letter to city council.

“The center’s relationship with Amy and the film festival goes back many years, and we are grateful for her contributions to the center’s film programming — and as a member of our team for the past two seasons. We wish her and the film festival every success in the future.”

Scottsdale Councilwoman Linda Milhaven, in a March 22 response to Mr. Perl’s announcement, says she was disappointed by Scottsdale Arts not supporting the film festival any longer.

Linda Milhaven

“I saw the collaboration with the film festival as a great partnership that recognized the 17-year history of the festival and hoped that the partnership would help to assure the longterm sustainability of the event,” she said in her written response. “It saddens me that Scottsdale Arts does not see a role in supporting the event.”

Mr. Perl points out the film festival was a drain on finite resources.

“It appears that, unfortunately, you have not been given the complete picture of what has transpired regarding this situation,” he said in response to Councilwoman Milhaven.

Following that correspondence, Ms. Ettinger, on March 24, offered a series of 10 requests to keep the International Film Festival opening night at the center for performing arts but it appears costs of those services was more than Mr. Perl could accommodate.

“Given our mandate to be fiscally responsible for Scottsdale Arts, unfortunately, we are not able to incur the significant expenses of staff time that Amy has proposed,” he said in a March 30 email to Councilwoman Milhaven.

“As you can gather from Amy’s request, Scottsdale Arts made a significant financial investment in the film festival for two years. As a matter of fact, during the time we lost almost $70,000 in hard costs alone. Please understand that we entered into this partnership with high hopes that we could help the sustainability of the festival, but unfortunately it did not materialize.”

Records show Councilwoman Milhaven and Mr. Perl attended a meeting regarding this matter on Friday, April 7, but no outcome of the meeting appeared in the Independent records request.

In the morning of Tuesday, April 11 Ms. Ettinger wrote to top tourism officials and both Councilwomen Linda Milhaven and Virginia Korte alerting them to her frustration the film festival could no longer host its opening night reception on Thursday, Nov. 2 at the Scottsdale Center for Performing Arts as has been done since 2010, records show.

“The news comes as a shock to me since I was told numerous times the Nov. 2 date and facilities were available to the festival for its opener,” she said in the April 11 email. “Neale had referenced the offer in two of his emails to us.”

Film festival statement

While Ms. Ettinger declined to provide comment for this story she did provide to the Independent on Friday, July 7 a statement clarifying the film festival’s position.

“The Scottsdale International Film Festival and Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts parted ways after their two-year collaboration agreement expired this past March,” the statement reads.

“The Festival is entering its 17th season and the organizers are looking forward to many new avenues for growth as it returns to its roots as a stand-alone organization. The city of Scottsdale’s Tourism Department, the Tourism & Development Commission, Experience Scottsdale, and the Scottsdale City Council have all joined in to demonstrate their commitment to the Festival and its viability and contributions to the community now and into the future.”

In that statement, Ms. Ettinger says she is thrilled with the guidance and support from various city agencies.

“The event will take place at the Harkins Shea 14 Theatre from Thursday, Nov. 2 through Monday, Nov. 6 and will feature 40-plus films from more than 25 countries. The website will be live with the Festival’s schedule, film and ticket information on Oct. 8th.”

Independent Newsmedia Arizona Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at

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