Antioch resident Loretta Green-Williams wanted to enrich knowledge of the arts in East County’s youth, so she brainstormed the Antioch Film and Arts Festival.
The festival was originally planned to run Sept. 1-5 and include a filmmaking workshop and weekend performances by several local musical acts. Three prominent musicians – Cuban salsa artist Tito Gonzales, Brazilian jazz musician Marcos Silva and California jazz group Ruthie Dineen and Calle 49 – were slated to take the stage as well.
The event also included fundraising for scholarships to art, music and film schools.
“We saw there was a need, so we wanted to fill it,” Green-Williams said.
While the filmmaking workshop – set for Sept. 1-5 at Driversity and Eco Business Center in downtown Antioch – will go forward as planned, concerns from the city about the planning and logistics of the event forced Antioch to deny Green-Williams’ request to use Waldie Plaza for the festival.
Green-Williams started planning the festival in March and wanted to hold the event next year, but said the positive response from Mayor Jim Davis and other members of the community motivated her to try for this year. Green-Williams said some of the businesses in the historic downtown area agreed to stay open during the festival.
Green-Williams worked with her organization, the Women of Concern Professionals, and Rainy Robinson, the owner of downtown Jane Bond Insurance Agency, to fill out the necessary paperwork. Tina Wehrmeister, the city’s director of community development, said that originally Green-Williams wanted to hold the festival at the Nick Rodriguez Community Center, but the facility was booked for that weekend.
On Aug. 8, Wehrmeister said Green-Williams requested use of Waldie Plaza for her event. The next day, Wehrmeister informed Green-Williams that she could not hold the festival there, pointing out that adequate security had not been hired and the insurance information was incomplete. Green-Williams claimed that she and Robinson felt rushed to get the paperwork to Economic Development Analyst Brian Nunnally before he left for vacation.
“The City has a responsibility to ensure that the public health and safety is protected,” Wehrmeister wrote to Green-Williams, “and that potential liability is covered so that the City (and the taxpayers) is not left footing the bill in the event of an accident.”
Green-Williams pointed out that security is lax for the Arts and Cultural Foundation’s Saturday summer concerts, also held at Waldie Plaza. Wehrmeister said the concerts have been a Rivertown mainstay for 20 years, while the city didn’t know what to expect for this new event. She said that in a few years, once Antioch becomes accustomed to the festival, the security restrictions could be reduced.
“We have no history,” Wehrmeister said. “We need to be cautious and prudent with the new event.”
The scheduling of Antioch police officers for the Labor Day weekend event, along with utilizing Public Works officials, further clouded the situation for the cash-strapped city.
The film workshop features Green-Williams’ daughter Dana Verde, a New York filmmaker and graduate of the London Film School and the New York Film School. The Driversity and Eco Business Centers, where the four-day event takes place, are private venues not subject to the same oversight as Waldie Plaza.
During the film workshop, participants will have four days to write, shoot and edit a one-to-two minute film.
Green-Williams believes Antioch’s downtown area, which encompasses the El Campanil Theatre, several dance studios and a waterfront, would be an optimal venue for the festival and workshop. Antioch also has several ties to Hollywood, including two-time Oscar winner for sound mixing Michael Semanick.
“I expressed to my daughter the unique circumstances we have in this area, which is absolutely beautiful,” Green-Williams said. “She was really excited about that.”
While Wehrmeister and City Manager Jim Jakel agreed that the festival would be a good event for Rivertown, which has been hit hard by the recession, there wasn’t enough time to plan it properly.
Wehrmeister noted that for an event of that magnitude (Green-Williams estimated roughly 300 attendees) to take place on public property, the city would need at least six months’ notice. She said that the city would be open to explore the possibility of such a festival next year.
Green-Williams plans to organize a film and arts festival next year, but the experience has soured her on Antioch as a location.