Film Reviews: Wednesday, November 14, 2002
Transition Shots

Reel changes remake the local film commission.


It was a weekend of change for Tarrant County film buffs. A new 18-screen AMC movie theater opened, to proper fanfare, at the cavernous The Parks Mall in Arlington. And the Central Park Cinema in Bedford, which had screened art films as well as Hollywood movies for northeast Tarrant County, closed for remodeling. (No word yet on its reopening.)

The biggest recent change, however, has been less apparent to moviegoers, in part because it took place outside the county entirely. The Dallas Fort Worth Regional Film Commission, whose troubles were outlined in a previous Fort Worth Weekly cover story (“Lights, Camera, Inaction!” March 14, 2002), was closed down and replaced last month by the newly created Dallas Film Commission, an arm of the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The old commission was little-known by the theater-going public, but its work in promoting — or failing to promote — North Texas as a place to shoot films was a subject of high emotion for the small community of filmmakers, actors, and others who try to make their livings in the film industry here. Roger Burke, as director of the DFW commission, had come under fire from those who felt that his leadership had been lacking.

The DFW commission was shut down shortly after the City of Dallas withdrew its $135,000 in annual funding, in mid-September. A total annual budget of $285,000 for the old commission had been drawn from each individual city and suburb in the Metroplex, including $45,000 from Fort Worth. After the withdrawal of Dallas’ funding, the commission’s board voted on Sept. 30 to dissolve the organization. Burke, who spent 14 years as head of the DFW group, said the problem was a shortfall in hotel bed tax income, out of which the commission had been funded.

However, on Oct. 10, Dallas found $30,000 with which to underwrite a new Dallas Film Commission. “I have no idea if this was the plan all along,” Burke said. Veletta Forsythe Lill, a member of the DCVB board and the chair of the Dallas City Council’s committee on arts, education, and libraries, said plans had been kicking around for some time for the DCVB to take over the job of attracting film productions here, and the plan was accelerated by the drop-off in revenues after 9/11.

Dallas is basically continuing the commission’s work by having an employee of the city’s convention and visitors bureau take on the film commission duties and running the new commission out of the bureau’s offices. Gary Woods, who has worked with the Dallas convention bureau for several years, is the new commission’s director.

The first question for the Tarrant County branch of the filmmaking tribe, of course, is whether the change in name indicates a change in the commission’s focus. Phyllis Hammond, vice president of public relations for the Dallas convention bureau, said the entire region will be marketed.

Lill said Fort Worth will benefit from the new commission’s work because Cowtown increases the diversity of locations available to movie companies that come here. “I mean, you guys have the Stockyards,” she said.

“It’s hard to predict what effect this’ll have,” said Burke. “I hope [the Dallas Film Commission’s] commitment [to Tarrant County] is genuine. I think what the commission has to do is start to develop homegrown filmmakers. That’s what they should be doing anyway” — and what many local industry sources felt Burke failed at. Once the locals find success, “you’d hope they’d use their clout to keep filming here, like Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriguez insist on using Austin,” he said.

Location scout Kim Davis said the new film commission will be great. “Film is about the worker bees,” she said. “The situation is perfectly positioned to create excitement. The rank-and-file members support this completely. There’s a whole new energy in the air that we didn’t have before.” Carol Pirie, assistant director of the Texas Film Commission, hailed the move as “a very positive step. The city of Dallas is stepping up.” About the difficulties of the previous film commission, she cited the fact that the staff numbered only three. “The director had to spend a lot of time renewing funding.”

Burke said that the fundraising itself wasn’t time-consuming. “The limited funding from Dallas meant that we had to resort to overkill when it came to going around to the smaller cities.” The affiliation of the new commission with the DCVB has solved the problem, he said.

Burke, too, is mulling over his future. “This is my first time out of work in 30 years. I have some writing ideas, but I’m basically working on closure,” he said, referring to his continuing unsalaried work during the transition phase as well as personal closure. Any restrictions? “I don’t want to do film commission work.”

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