Following the departure of key staff members earlier this year, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival announced Monday that it would be entering its 2009 season, which will run from Thursday, January 22 through Sunday, February 1, 2009, with a new director of operations, Rodney Gould, and a new director of development, Monique Littlejohn. But it wasn’t without some controversy that the festival made this transition. Josh Murray and Mary Lynn Harms – the former general manager and director of development, respectively, whose tenures with the non-profit ended in winter of this year, along with that of operations manager Chris Johnston – were two of the festival’s more prominent longtime employees. Many regular festival-goers were surprised to hear of their departures. Murray, for example, had been working with the festival longer than its executive director and de facto figurehead, Roger Durling.
While Harms left the festival in order to take a position as marketing director at the Santa Barbara Downtown Organization, Murray and Johnston were laid off as a result of budget concerns and festival management’s desire to restructure the staff hierarchy. The former reason surprised many, as the celebrity-studded 2008 festival gave the appearance of event having grown exponentially from what it was just a few years ago. Durling, who also writes a column for the Independent, said, however, that he appreciated the work the former staffers had done for the festival and acknowledges that they had helped make the festival grow as big as it has. Murray, Harms and Johnston, meanwhile, will continue their work with Premiere Events, their event production and public relations firm, which promotes Santa Barbara events like the courthouse jazz series.
Durling also said that the average Santa Barbara resident who attends the film festival won’t notice a significant difference between this year’s festival and next year’s, aside from continued growth. Any further expansion the festival undergoes, however, will be done with the help of Gould and Littlejohn, each of whom bring longtime connections with Santa Barbara as well as professional experience. Gould comes to festival from Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital, where he held the title of nutrition manager, and, previously, from the Four Seasons Biltmore, where he held various promotion, organization and event-related positions and had previously worked with the festival in helping arrange rooms for talent who made appearances here in Santa Barbara. Gould, who started Monday, said that part of the staff restructuring included the Murray’s previous position, general manager, being combined with that of the festival coordinator to create his position, director of operations.
Littlejohn, who is entering her second week with the festival as director of development, previously oversaw Muscular Dystrophy Association district offices in Honolulu and Santa Barbara and has helped organize local Labor Day telethons for the cause as well as the Black and Blue Ball. Currently in the busiest time of her year, according to the film festival’s annual calendar, Littlejohn said she was seeking out types of sponsors that the event has not had before, such as automotive sponsors, television sponsors, and others.