Upheaval within Documentary Film Institute | Rock Candy

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Upheaval within Documentary Film Institute

Posted on Wed, Jul 26, 2006 at 6:48 PM

Brenda Hawkes, the president of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute, which runs the Spa City's annual film festival in October, is out, and the Institute's board chairman, Bill Asti, has told the board he is quitting, we learned today.

Hawkes submitted her letter of resignation this morning, according to Brad Hudgins, vice chairman of the HSDFI board. He said Hawkes was not fired, but the board met on Saturday, July 16, to discuss Hawkes' position and again last Monday.

Asti, Hudgins said, told him in a telephone call Wednesday that he would be giving up the chairman's position. Asti was out of town and could not attend the July 16 meeting, but was in attendance on Monday.

Hudgins said the changes in the leadership would not affect this year's festival, and that plans are already well under way for the Oct. 20-29 event. "We've got our volunteers going through 900 films right now, and our graphics folks are getting the invitations made for the gala. Absolutely, the festival is still in great shape. We're anticipating the best festival we've ever had, and that's coming of last year's record festival and a record fund-raising effort we had last month in Little Rock."

The volunteer screening committee of the festival is scheduled to have its list of eligible films decided by Sunday. The committee pares the hundreds of entries to a final list of 90 films of varying lengths to be screened over the 10 days.

Hawkes, a former fund-raising chief at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, and who lives in Arkadelphia, responded by email that she had indeed resigned Wednesday. "Mr. Bill Asti and I worked very well together and had plans to develop more economic development initiatives and educational components within the Institute."

Messages left with Asti's Little Rock architectural firm and his home have not been returned today.

Hawkes succeeded Melanie Masino, who was president of the HSDFI for six years and left after the 2004 festival. Masino, who now lives in Little Rock, had announced her plans to resign during the summer leading up to the 2004 festival. In the past few months, several staffers in the HSDFI office have left.

Asti was named chairman of the festival in late 2004 and in January 2005 hired Hawkes. The president oversees all the HSDFI programs and fund-raising. Hawkes, in an interview with the Times after she was hired, said she had never attended the festival, but her qualifications for the position were based on her previous fund-raising efforts, she added. The 2005 festival which was overseen by Hawkes was the Institute's most successful in its 14 years.

Hudgins said the Institute board would meet soon to choose a chairman. Hudgins and Vicki Hines are vice chairmen, "but the board could decide to choose anyone it wants and not pick one of the vice chairmen" to take over for Asti.

Hawkes had surgery last month, just two weeks before the Film Institute's ACE benefit banquet in Little Rock honoring supporter Madison Murphy of El Dorado. Hudgins said he could not confirm that her health had anything to do with Hawkes' resignation. "You probably need to get that from her," he said. The June benefit was the most successful fund-raiser put on by the Institute.

Hawkes, via email, said she was diagnosed with breast cancer on May 10 and had surgery on May 30 that kept her out of the office for four days. "My cancer has never stopped me from putting in more than 40-hour and up to 90-hour weeks and supreme effort at the Institute," she said.

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