People keep asking what it’s like to be at Fantastic Fest this year, as it unfolds under an ever-darkening cloud of sexual assault and sexual harassment revelations, ham-fisted damage control by Drafthouse, and allegedly ill-advised programming decisions.
Recapping every step of this controversy is a slog, but details are important, so here goes: First there was Devin Faraci’s firing last year. Faraci was the editor of the film site and print publication Birth.Movies.Death, which is owned by Alamo Drafthouse and works closely to put on Fantastic Fest. Faraci had been accused by a former friend of sexual assault, specifically of sticking his hands down her pants after she said no at a bar meet-up in 2004. (The original tweet, in response to Faraci discussing Trump’s Access Hollywood tape: “Do you remember grabbing me by the pussy and bragging to our friends about it, telling them to smell your fingers?”) Faraci said he didn’t remember the incident but apologized. (“I do not remember this. I can only believe you and beg forgiveness for having been so vile.”)
At the time, Drafthouse owner Tim League announced that Faraci had resigned. Faraci’s victim told The Hollywood Reporter “I’m really happy that Tim League took this seriously and that Devin is interested in getting treatment. I’ve let them know that I’m available for any accountability processing that might be part of his rehabilitation.”
In the wake of that decision, Faraci, who was a constant, loud presence on film Twitter before, largely disappeared from social media. Then a little over two weeks ago (I can’t believe it’s only been two weeks), League announced that Faraci, who had supposedly gotten sober and began studying Buddhism over the course of the previous year, would be writing blurbs for the festival. Drafthouse released a statement written by League saying in part, “I offered Devin copywriting work at Alamo Drafthouse and have recently expanded that to include writing blurbs for our Fantastic Fest festival guide.”
There was immediate fallout, not so much because League had rehired Faraci (which is a semantic argument in and of itself, since League apparently hadn’t given Faraci his old position back, only retained him in a more minor role), but because it didn’t feel entirely above board. The announcement only seems to have come after a few Drafthouse fans noticed Faraci’s name in the program guide, which made it feel like belated damage control. It was also weaselly on the details, and it soon came out that Faraci hadn’t spent much time away (“away”) at all, with one unnamed Drafthouse programmer telling Hollywood Reporter, “Devin’s new position was not initially announced internally so it’s difficult for me to say with exact certainty when he began in it. But it was clear he was around, being cc’d on emails and such, within a month of his leaving BMD.”
Drafthouse’s director of international programming, Todd Brown, well respected in the world of film writers (deservedly so, in my experience), resigned in protest, writing that he hadn’t been consulted on the decision, saying “Anyone who has ever suggested that Fantastic Fest and the Drafthouse is just the geek friendly equivalent of the classic Old Boys Club, you have just been proven correct. We have just seen that Club in action. There it is, the Club utterly ignoring the victim while it creates a protective ring around the perpetrator.”
There were additional accusations that Faraci had sexually harassed other members of the film community, and that the accuser had told League about it, and that League had responded, “As I’m sure you know, Devin has stepped down. Thanks for sharing your story and I’m sorry to hear about this experience. I’ve been talking to Devin lately and he is going through some very serious soul-searching right now. I’d appreciate it if you kept this dialogue between us.”
The anonymous Drafthouse programmer quoted above said he was similarly asked to keep criticism of Faraci private after calling out Faraci on Facebook for an essay defending Woody Allen. He told THR in part, “I was censured by the Alamo and had to sign a letter acknowledging that if I made criticisms like that in the future it would be grounds for dismissal. [Drafthouse said] these sorts of issues were meant to be addressed internally.”
There’s a legitimate discussion to be had about whether allowing Faraci to contribute copywriting would “contribute to his recovery process by helping him with some means to earn a living,” as League says, or if it would protect an abuser at the expense of a victim and contribute to a Boys Club atmosphere as Brown suggests. It’s difficult to answer because it partly comes down to optics. A PR pro would’ve almost certainly advised League to cut ties with Faraci immediately after the initial allegation, and maybe League should have, but that’s also an easy, face-saving, ass-covering move that any faceless corporation would’ve made and it would have had nothing to do with victims, community, or morals. If you took League exactly at his word, it could’ve been a positive move.
Unfortunately we can’t have that discussion, because the circumstances under which the rehiring decision was announced make it seem like it was belated damage control, a self-serving excuse for why Faraci’s name was going to be in the program guide. Worse, it seems that the larger Drafthouse community wasn’t consulted, and ended up blindsided by the announcement. As Faraci’s accuser wrote, “i’ve got too many good things going on in my life to let this break my stride too much but FUCK devin faraci & tim league. i was (and am!) willing to believe that people can learn, change, and grow, and don’t believe in lost causes. but compassion without boundaries and accountability is a form of enabling.”