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An Open Letter to Cinefamily / Fairfax Cinema

In the early summer of 2018, CinefamilyAccountability (CA) was looking forward to a planned sit-down with Sammy Harkham.  This did not happen.  Instead, following an email correspondence, CA sent this letter to Dan Harkham, Sammy Harkham, Erin Hensley, and Kate Rouhandeh.


Dear Dan, Sammy, Erin, and Kate:

We’re coming up on a year since you closed Cinefamily, and in the back-and-forth of emails we appear to be losing the forest for the trees.  You seem to understand—as Sammy said—there are “bad feelings” on the part of “people who supported the Cinefamily,” but you seem at a loss as to why, and as to your ongoing responsibilities. 

These are the problems I see:

1)  Cinefamily is responsible for harm to many people, and people have not been made whole.  Despite your claims to the contrary, several distributors recently told me you still owe them money.  Contractors who worked for you are also still owed money, as are vendors and suppliers.  You’ve messed with the personal credit of a former employee.  You promised—and failed to provide—refunds to members.  Employee wage claims are still pending with the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement.  16 percent of surveyed staff believe you owe them money; another 17.5 percent are not sure if you owe them money.

Maybe these are proper creditors, maybe not.  Maybe you have funds to cover your debts, maybe not.  Rather than go through the appropriate, state-sanctioned process, you’ve improperly made self-serving decisions (“the Cinefamily does not technically treat annual members as creditors,” “Cinefamily does not have sufficient funds”).  These are factual, empirical matters; your self-interest precludes you from ruling on them unilaterally.

Beyond finances, Cinefamily has caused profound harm to countless staff and volunteers.  Many press accounts described an abusive and hostile workplace characterized by bullying, misogyny, harassment, intimidation, and outright assault.  You have never responded to these credible, on-the-record accounts.  Nearly half of surveyed staff believe they suffered labor law violations; more than two-thirds report knowledge of violations affecting others.  Of those who reported concerns to management, 85 percent did not feel the concern was properly addressed.

2)  There has still been no credible or comprehensive accounting.  After closing Cinefamily, you first directed people to an LAPD officer; several staffers told me of an allegedly improper personal relationship between top Cinefamily management and this officer.  You then paid for an “independent” investigation that came under scrutiny for possibly not being independent.  Finally, you refused to make the report public.  A year later, you have still failed to adequately address the workplace scandal with the press or the public. 

You have flaunted basic financial regulations and controls.  Cinefamily never filed taxes for 2015, 2016, or 2017.  You have ignored the legal requirement to open your books.  You refuse to answer questions about the whereabouts of Cinefamily assets potentially worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Many staff told me they had direct knowledge of a range of financial improprieties, including the embezzlement of tens of thousands of dollars, in what amounts to an open secret.  It is not clear why any creditor would accept your claims at face value.

3)  “Fairfax Cinema” does not appear to have learned the lessons of Cinefamily.  Poor management and oversight are solvable, but you appear less interested in these challenges than in grandstanding on the dubious claim that Fairfax is a separate legal entity.  Even if it is true that Fairfax is not simply an alter ego created as a shield for legal liability, it still fails to address the problem.  All four of you were leaders at Cinefamily, either in management or on the board; Dan’s power was even greater.  At Fairfax, all four of you are in leadership positions, either as management or owner, or both.  How will you produce a healthier workplace?

Was the announcement of “a [new] specified code of conduct and sexual harassment policy” supposed to be reassuring?  It does not seem normal for a “new” business—one that disclaims a connection to Cinefamily—to be secretive about its very existence, business model, and leadership, but to already have a fleshed-out (if secret) sexual harassment policy.  As a patron, I want to go to a truly safe space; I do not want pretty-sounding, but empty, words.

Dan, you were Cinefamily’s treasurer.  Erin, you were Cinefamily’s accountant.  You were the two people most responsible for finances, and you appear to have overseen an organization rife with financial mismanagement, embezzlement, and tax violations.  What will be different about your approach now?

4)  This was—and is—your responsibility.  Top management (Hadrian, Trevor, Erin) was supposed to ensure a responsible workplace.  The Board (Dan, Sammy, and others) was supposed to ensure management did its job.  Dan (according to legal filings) was supposed to make sure the Board did its job.  You all failed spectacularly.  Hadrian created an allegedly abusive working environment, and the Board allowed it.  Erin didn’t file taxes, and the Board allowed it.  The Board was out to lunch, and Dan allowed it.  To you, the entire story appears to begin and end with your reply of “but Hadrian!”  It does not.  You all had jobs to do, and you didn’t do them.

Cinefamily remains an extant legal entity with financial and ethical responsibilities.  Your operations were subsidized not only by our membership dollars, but by our tax dollars.  Every California taxpayer supported Cinefamily as a public benefit corporation.

 

We can have honest disagreements about how to address these problems, but in the nine months since I first reached out, you have yet to either acknowledge these fundamentals or rebut them.  Instead, pat talking points—“coordinated smear campaign,” “disgruntled ex-employee,” “separate legal entity”— attempt to sidestep these issues and muddy the waters.  I have had conversations with Erin, Sammy, and your attorney.  Each time I raised these issues, it was as though I was explaining them anew.  Each time, you gave me overly narrow or legalistic non-responses.  You’ve exhibited resistance to direct, human engagement. 

I have tried in good faith to be as collaborative as possible.  I approached you first as a friend and as a fan.  After the better part of a year, I give up.  I simply cannot tell whether your actions and decisions are guided by incompetence or by malice.  So I will leave it to the Attorney General to decide if you’re operating in good faith.  For my part, I will keep reporting on CinefamilyAccountability, and I will continue to speak with regulators and other stakeholders. 

I pride myself on the accuracy of my reporting, and I hope you will flag any errors or corrections.  (Sammy, your email alluded to “a few errors,” but pointed to none.  I will address any factual or analytical errors you flag.)  My preference would be for the response that you’ve thus far avoided regarding big picture substantive points throughout CA, but I’m happy to accept small-bore corrections as well.

As always, I speak only for myself.

Yours in sadness,

Jon