Come April, for the first time in 19 years, there will be no Philadelphia international film festival.
Citing economic challenges, longtime producers of the annual spring affair - which sold 65,000 tickets to its 18th edition in 2009 - canceled the 2010 installment.
"We are confident in our ability to produce a movie festival in 2011 that honors our tradition," said Ray Murray, head of the TLA Entertainment Group.
Since 2001, Murray has been artistic director of the Philadelphia Film Festival, which was rechristened CineFest last year. During his tenure, attendance at the event, founded in 1991 as the Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema, more than tripled.
Last year Murray publicly split with The Philadelphia Film Society (PFS), the nonprofit that oversees The Philadelphia Film Festival and owns the name.
Citing irreconcilable differences, the two entities divorced and divided the baby, agreeing to hold separate film events.
The TLA-run CineFest was to be held in spring while the PFS-run Philadelphia Film Festival would run in the fall. Last October, the reconstituted PFF held its inaugural event, a five-day moviethon called "PFF 181/2" that opened with Law Abiding Citizen.
Apart from personality clashes, a subject of contention was the festival's timing. The TLA group (which also runs QFest, formerly the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival) favored spring. But the film society preferred fall because it could show the same new titles as the Toronto and New York film festivals, both in September.
Was the cancellation of CineFest 2010 in part due to two entities competing for the same foundation and corporate resources?
"We've experienced a lot of economic challenges," CineFest development director Thom Cardwell said yesterday, saying that the loss of revenue from the city Commerce Department dealt a fatal blow to the 2010 edition.
"If you look at our partners for PFF 181/2, you'll see that we brought in almost all new sponsors," says Andrew Greenblatt, executive director of the reorganized PFF.
Though frankly "disappointed" by the cancellation of CineFest 2010, calling it "an unfortunate moviegoing void in the calendar," Greenblatt said his group was "exploring if it may be possible on such short notice . . . to stage an event during this period."
Ever since the CineFest and Film Festival parted ways, local cinephiles have wondered whether the city, like New York (which hosts the Gotham, New York, and Tribeca moviethons), has movie geeks enough to go around.
"I'm confident that Philadelphia can support two film festivals," Sharon Pinkenson, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, said yesterday. Not everyone is so sure.
"The Philadelphia film community is experiencing a loss stemming from the schism between the two groups," says Juliet Goodfriend, executive director of the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. "I'd like to see CineFest and the Film Festival reunited as one large, vibrant international film festival."
Could CineFest and the Film Festival reconcile, or is the schism too deep?
"I can't answer that," said CineFest's Cardwell. "There's been no discussion on either side."
"They chose to walk away from us," said PFF's Greenblatt. "But if they chose to work together again, that's something we would be open to."
Should the former partners opt to explore reconciliation, Goodfriend volunteers her group to mediate.