Tom Hall Steps Down as Sarasota Film Festival Director

Tom Hall, director of the Sarasota Film Festival, is stepping down to take over as executive director of the Montclair Film Festival in New Jersey. Hall has spent a decade in a leadership position with the Sarasota festival, helping establish the organization’s reputation within the world of independent film.

tom-hallHall, who for years has lived in Brooklyn with his wife and children while traveling back and forth to Southwest Florida, fills the newly created post of executive director at Montclair, replacing both Executive Director Raphaela Neihausen and Artistic Director Thom Powers.

During his tenure in Sarasota, he rose from programmer in 2004,  picking up the title artistic director along the way before being promoted to director.

“I was brought on based upon my work as programmer at the Nantucket Film Festival, and asked to come in and reorganize Sarasota’s film program. The festival hired a film programming consulting company at the same time, as a hedge, just in case I was not a good hire,” Hall recalls in a personal blog post. “I did my best. We screened Arnaud Desplechin’s Kings & Queen in competition (it lost to Danny Boyle’s Millions), hosted musical performances by Bob Mould, Ted Leo and The Pharmacists, and DeVotchKa, we added films like Jem Cohen’s Chain to the program.”

Hall initially came on during a time of financial stress for the film festival and saw the regional event transition from an event focused on bringing high-priced stars to lavish parties into a prestige event attracting a growing number of world premieres and showcasing films which would see further success both within the festival circuit and commercial release. The festival in recent year’s has screened such soon-to-be hits as Blackfish, Gasland and Frances Ha, along with such indie releases as The Dirties, The (Dead Mothers) Club and The One I Love.

During his tenure, Hall also saw such stars hosted in the area as Charlize Theron, Patti Smith, Stanley Tucci, Kevin Kline, Woody Harrelson and Elisabeth Moss.

Family concerns ultimately pulled Hall away from the Suncoast. He noted in a Facebook post that the Montclair festival is in his backyard. “I have been spending months at a time away from my family, and as my kids grow and my wife and I work harder and harder to keep things going, it has become more and more difficult for my family and me to be away,” he said. “As the same time, the SFF continues to grow, and it needs more care and attention than I am able to give it.”

Montclair is a young festival, entering its fourth year, but Hall, impressed by its potential, said he is committed to helping the organization grow.

SFF has not yet announced a replacement for Hall, but is working on a transition. “We are happy that Tom has chosen to be closer to his growing young family,” said SFF President Mark Famiglio. More will become clear about the festival’s future leadership over the next 45 days, Famiglio said.

“Most of Tom’s duties were programmatic and we have spoken with many folks with superlative reputations,” Famiglio said. “We have been reviewing resumes and meeting informally for many months.” The festival plans to have a managing director, festival manager, marketing manager, development manager and artistic director. As associate director has been positions to oversee many of those posts and year-round operations, and an executive director may be added in the near future. Famiglio said the festival should be on track to be fully staffed and ready for the 2015 festival.

“Tom will continue to work on transitioning the programming piece over to new leadership,” Famiglio said. “He will likely be involved with the festival for years to come.”

In Hall’s personal blog post, he outlines the films and personalities in his own figurative highlight reel of his time in Sarasota. The post is a true must-read for anyone tangentially involved with the festival. In it, he capsulated his own philosophy about running the festival over the course of the decade.

“Through all of it, I have never backed down from showing films I thought were important. For me, that means thematically challenging, formally ambitious, aesthetically beautiful films that challenge an intelligent audience.”

Tom Hall, 1,500 films later
Tom Hall, 1,500 films later

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