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Details on Fairfax Cinema Trickle Out

When we broke the news of Dan Harkham replacing Cinefamily with Fairfax Cinema, we had more questions than answers.  We now have some answers!  But also more questions.

We had quickly confirmed the basic veracity: Harkham filed the legal paperwork for Fairfax about a month before announcing an intention to close Cinefamily.  (Cinefamily continues to exist.)  Cinefamily's accountant Erin Hensley would be the managing director of Fairfax Cinema.

When I reached out to Harkham, it was Hensley who wrote back, saying she "would love" to talk with me.  It took two weeks, but we got on the phone in late January.  We spent more time off the record than on, but Hensley did provide some new information.  I apologize for the two and a half week lag in reporting these few additional details; I'd believed more detailed information would be forthcoming.  Hensley confirmed:

  • Fairfax Cinema will be a for-profit business
  • Dan Harkham is the sole owner of Fairfax Cinema
  • Fairfax Cinema plans to show the same mix of content as Cinefamily

Before our call, I had flagged several questions for Hensley; she declined to address them on the record.  She disagreed with my characterization of Fairfax as a "rebranding," and explained she saw Fairfax as a wholly separate entity.  I don't think either of us found it a terribly productive discussion, but after so many months of silence from Cinefamily, I mainly appreciated that we were talking at all! 

The next day I remembered some more questions, and contacted Hensley who said I could send follow-ups, which I did on Feb. 2:

  1. You've said you're the managing director at Fairfax.  Are you the only staffer (either employee or contractor), or have there been any other hires?  Hadrian, Eliot, and Marcus have told me they have no relation to Fairfax.  Tom & Kate have not replied to my question.

  2. Looks like renovations are already underway.  (Congrats!)  Is that correct?  Is there a timeline for renovations and/or for opening?

  3. Are you aware of any governmental action or inquiry or investigation into Cinefamily and/or Fairfax?  The government does not keep the public updated about such things (an appropriate policy, I'd add), and I'm just curious whether you or Dan have been contacted by any federal, state, or local regulatory entity(ies).

  4. You've told former Cinefamily staff you're working on the 2017 tax forms.  Are you also working on the 2017 Cinefamily donation letters?  Do you have a timeline for either set of forms?  I'd thought 1/31 was a hard deadline for both?

  5. You told me you were laid off from Cinefamily and that Fairfax (your current employer) has nothing to do with Cinefamily.  So why are you preparing Cinefamily tax documents?

  6. Legal docs for Fairfax were filed in October with the Secretary of State.  Fairfax's Statement of Information (another legal doc to be filed with the Sec of State) appears to be late or missing (it was due last month).  What's the status of that filing?

  7. I was surprised that Dan filed the paperwork for Fairfax a month before making an announcement about Cinefamily.  Many people have told me they find this distasteful, disingenuous, or sketchy (to pick just three adjectives I've heard).  Is there anything you'd say to people to make them feel more comfortable about this timeline?

  8. You've acknowledged there are a lot of creditors waiting to get paid by Cinefamily (though to be sure, we disagree about the extent to which Cinefamily's obligations carry over to Fairfax).  As the accountant, you were in charge of Cinefamily finances, and as treasurer, Dan was in charge of financial oversight.  Distributors and patrons have both expressed to me a wariness of working with or patronizing any entity with such substantively similar financial personnel.  What would you say to these people to make them feel comfortable about doing business with or patronizing Fairfax?  Do you believe Cinefamily creditors should simply take the write-down, or do you see other options?

  9. Are you aware that some Cinefamily donors were being charged monthly as recently as January 2018?

  10. In relation to the problems at Cinefamily, you told me you're committed to ensuring Fairfax is a "safe space" for staff.  What steps are you taking (or planning on taking) to operationalize that ideal?  What's going to be different here?

  11. Just to confirm you'd told me that Dan is the sole owner of the LLC, and that it is a for-profit entity.  Is that correct?

  12. You spoke eloquently about the pain and challenge of being laid off from Cinefamily.  Others have reported similar things to me after being laid off.  But, if I captured this correctly, you would not commit to rehiring laid off Cinefamily staff.  Since you're operating in the exact same line of business and will need substantively the same positions, why won't you make this commitment?

  13. We had a conversation about the connection (or not) between Cinefamily & Fairfax, and the extent to which Fairfax is a separate entity versus a rebrand; I think we both found this conversation dissatisfying.  As I see it, a repertory theater owned by Dan is being replaced by a repertory theater owned by Dan.  I understand Cinefamily was nonprofit and Fairfax is for-profit, but other than that, on what exact basis do you view this as a separate business?  Is it solely based on a change in corporate entity on paper?  Do you understand why people would, in common parlance, think of this more like a rebrand?  What would you say to such people?

  14. Did Cinefamily ever files taxes for FY 2015, 2016, or 2017?

  15. You'd said you believed Dan was unaware that he was, legally speaking, the sole member of Cinefamily, and that he alone had the legal authority to add or remove the Board of Directors.  Is that correct?  On what basis do you believe that he was unaware?

Early Feb. 7, I emailed Hensley to remind her I planned to write about Fairfax and hoped for any replies by the end of the day on Feb 9.  At 4 p.m. on Feb. 9, she wrote requesting a call for this coming week; I wrote back within minutes but got no reply.

I hope the promised call will happen.  I'll continue to share what I learn.  

In the interest of transparency (and to avoid allegations of mischaracterizing the exchange), the full text of all the emails is available here.