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Cinefamily Accountability
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Unfinished Business: The Enablers

The future of workplace safety is up in the air.  We don’t yet know if #MeToo will herald a new era of responsibility, or if it’s just the latest in a never-ending game of whack-a-mole.  Changing the culture is a long-term project, and while (some) perpetrators have been held accountable, new ones take their place every day.  For sustainable, lasting change, we have to walk and chew gum at the same time: as we hold jerks to account, we must also attend to the systems and structures that support and protect them.

September has been a heady month for #MeToo Schadenfreude.

On seeing a ‘life ruined,’ a hit of smug superiority can give a false sense of justice served—false because this downfall addresses only part of the problem.  Increasingly, advocates and the press are putting enablers under the microscope:

Perpetrators typically have multiple enablers, and the track record at holding them accountable is mixed: some have lost jobs, clients, and respect; others laugh all the way to the bank.

Of the many enablers at Cinefamily, I am ashamed to count myself as one—albeit on the passive side of the spectrum.  I’m sure I was not the only patron to find Cinefamily’s reliance on “volunteer labor” to be sketchy, but I said nothing.  I saw beer handed out to patrons willy-nilly but ignored the implications.  I reveled in the outré screenings, conflating criticality with prurience.  To be clear: I had no clue about the abuse or harassment or violence or embezzlement or fraud—but maybe I should have?

The more active enablers—the ones who could and should have stopped it—attended Cinefamily board meetings.  Not everyone on the board knew every detail of the abuse and improprieties, but the “core” board members knew a lot, according to my interviews with several former board members.  They approved spending money on lawyers to bully press outlets.  They approved secret investigations and secret settlements.  They kept information from law enforcement, staff, members, regulators, and the public.

Cinefamily’s board members included:

  • Phil Lord, screenwriter and director

  • Katharine O’Brien, director

  • Alia Penner, artist

  • Amy Poncher, producer

  • Brad Simpson, producer at Color Force

  • Bec Smith, agent at United Talent

  • Melissa Volpert of the Standard, Hollywood

  • John Wyatt of Cinespia

  • Michael Bacall, screenwriter

  • Albert Berger, producer

  • Louis Black, producer

  • Liesl Copland, agent at WME

  • James Andrew Fino of Starburns Industries

  • Sammy Harkham

  • Phil Hoelting, producer

  • Ted Hope, Amazon Studios

Dan Harkham was not only the Silent Movie Theater’s owner and Cinefamily’s co-founder and Board Treasurer, but corporate filings show him as Cinefamily’s sole legal decision-maker, appointing (and/or ousting) every single board member.  Dan Harkham was the one person charged with board oversight—he was the CEO, the Chief Enabling Officer. 

Corporate filings indicate Harkham is also the man in charge of Fairfax Cinema.  When will the next round of whack-a-mole start?