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Miami Gay Film Festival fires director Carol Coombes


coombes The Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival -- about $50,000 in debt -- on Friday fired its flamboyant festival director, Carol Coombes.

Now, she may be deported.

"Carol is British and in 60 days she might have to leave the country," said Harvey Burstein, a festival founder and former board member.

He said Coombes' visa requires she be employed in the film industry and that she was to get her permanent residency or green card in November.

Coombes joined the festival in 2001 and became director a few years later. She declined comment.

"It's a very unfortunate complication of a very heartfelt, thought-out decision," said festival board member Mark Gilbert. "We know that there are implications that will affect her citizenship and we are hopeful that Carol, because of her great skills, will be able to find immediate, meaningful employment."

Burstein, who said he wrote the first check to the film festival more than 10 years ago, is "really, really worried and saddened," both for Coombes and the festival. "The film festival did so much for this community," he said.

Gilbert assures that the 11th annual festival "absolutely'' will take place next April. "We want to start over, with new people to rebuild this festival," Gilbert said. ``We are analyzing and critiquing every facet of this festival, to make sure we are doing it as cost efficiently and as well as we can."

The festival, which this year added a weekend in Fort Lauderdale, took a big hit last spring when three major sponsors -- Avis Rent-a-Car, Sundance Channel and Flamingo South Beach condos -- suddenly backed out.

Throughout this year's festival, board members warned attendees of the financial crisis. "Remember, this is a community festival and needs to be supported by the community," Gilbert said. "We got up every single night because we knew where we were going to be. Unfortunately, the community did not rise to the level we anticipated."

Last month, the festival board fired two other full-time staff members, development director Keith Cromley and operations manager Lisa Niven.

"The Board has entrusted Carol Coombes and [festival manager] Kareem Tabsch to step up and do what is necessary to ensure the ongoing success of this very important South Florida Gay Cultural Institution," the festival said in a letter to members. "We know they will take this trust and rise to the challenge."

Two weeks ago, Tabsch quit. "I left on my own accord," he said Friday.

Alone, Coombes planned to close the office and run the festival out of her home, Burstein said.

Coombes performed well at work, but some board members "micromanaged her job," Burstein said.

"You hire talent and let them do the work," said Burstein, board chairman of Miami Beach Arts Trust and New Theatre. "You agree on policy and vote on the budget and that's it. You put on your volunteer's hat."

Gilbert said the board fired Coombes simply because it wants "to start over with new people."

"In order to reinvent itself, the festival needed to reinvent itself from top down," Gilbert said. "That included a complete overhaul of staff and starting over again."


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what is failed to be mentioned is the huge amount of large donors and memebers who did not return this year, not due to the ecomony but to the arrogant and dismissive way that carol conducted the festival the year before.

Should have been more "micro-managed"

I won't support the festival anymore because when they throw someone under the bus, there are repercussions. She did not deserve this--the times changed in GAY South Florida--and what you needed was to move the festival to Lauderdale.

She should start a festival on her own and leave Miami and the greedy idiots behind.

I wish I were gay and I wouldn't have to pay child support

I'm surprised this didn't happen sooner! That woman was arrogant and self-indulgent, and contrary to what she might think, we didn't gather in the theater to see what tacky outfit she was wearing or to hear her talk down to us, we went to see the movies. Perhaps if she'd spent more time looking for good films instead of feeding her ego more of us would still be attending this year and wouldn't have had to sit through the slop she served up.

I agree with Margaret 100%. This should have opened years ago with the "firing" of Carol Coombes. She needs to be deported sooner than 60days!! You also need to look at your board members. Some of them upset alot of supportes of the film festival with their own egos as well. Everyone should go!!!! Even the board. Get people in here with experience, who know what it is to run a film festival. Not people who are on the board just to be seen in local media ect.

She is so arrogant and needed to go a long time ago!

The reason that the Gay Film Festival failed is two-fold. The diva in charge and some of her staffers and the fact that the festival lost track of the fact that Miami and SOBE are no longer the gay mecca. Yes, the gays came into an old Miami Beach twenty years ago and, beginning with The Strand, then Warsaw, reinvented the place as SOBE. But per the normal course of things, the gays made it fab and the straights with money moved in. Now Fort Lauderdale, a gay bastion since the 70s, has fully reclaimed the crown and that is where the festival should be if it is to be remotely successful. And then market to other gay sister cities, like Palm Springs, and get something going. It's probably a good idea to find new and cool gay-themed movies with better production values too at put them in decent theaters, not the old run-down Galaxy 4. And please, not the films you can grab on Netflix because they are showing at a Festival "premiere" when in fact they are TWO YEARS OLD! And maybe get some of the stars down for the premiere and/or the director!

I am very sad to hear this... I do not know how this really works, what I know as a peroson who enjoy the festival is that we (the public) do not deserve that this Festival stops in Miami and get moved to Fort Laurderdale. Fort Lauderdale can have its own festival, I will love to go to both. I hope that who ever stays in her place do a great job to continue this Festival. I love this festival and no matter what I want to thank Carol for her job this years, if it was not the great thing, I dont know but at least we had someone if front for this community. The festival needs to reinvent itself and dont bring movies that you can rent in Netflix or Blockbuster. Tks !

I am saddened to hear this news but not entirely surprised. This past year's festival was nothing to write home about with regards to the films selected. The opening night party was very disappointing in that they had a cash bar which was further complicated by a confusing voucher system which only pissed people off even more. To be quite honest, I don't think that Miami deserves to have a gay and lesbian film festival. There is no gay pride celebration. There is not even a gay community center. The "community", such as it is, is very disjointed, fractured and disorganized. The few gay establishments that exist are not really geared for us locals but more for rich, white tourists who can afford to pay $7 for a beer and $15 for cocktails. My advice to the board of directors would be to first of all, hire a director who is from Miami and who would be viewed by the community as "one of us". Secondly, they should consult with other gay film festivals and find out what they are doing that Miami isn't doing and do the same thing. Barring all of that, I would close up shop here in Miami and move north to Fort Lauderdale where the south florida gay scene currently resides as Miami's days have long past. Maybe once the gay community of Miami has it's act more together, maybe then it will be deserving of a gay and lesbian film festival.

I'm not all that surprised either, this was something that had to be done for a while and if they would have done it last year after one bad film after another, perhaps so many of us wouldn't have cancelled our memberships if we knew they were getting rid of the problem. I was there opening night for that horrible dorian gray movie when Carol and the director said to the audience 'if you don't get this film or don't like it, it's cause you're stupid" or something to that effect. I'm sure I can't be the only one to remember that. Women certainly want and appreciate organizations led by women, but we aren't willing to trade in woman led at the cost of mediocrity and arrogance. Her green card is her problem, what I get for my money is mine.

Carol was great. She built MGLFF into one of the top 5 gay film festivals in the US. The quality of films at any festival varies yearly depending upon available films. Her poor treatment and dismissal by the MGLFF board -- as well as their dismissal of the rest of the staff -- exemplifies their lack of experience and poor management. Shame on them.

Coombes brought this festival to prominence and gave it a world class rep. What is lost beneath all of the empty rhetoric of reinvention is any clear discussion of exactly what direction the fest will be taking and what Coombes may not have been doing. And, by the way, she was doing everything, the powerhouse that she is. Those not familiar with the national film festival circuit need to understand that Carol and the program committee were leading the way, setting up a program that influenced every other city festival--from NY to LA. If you survey the queer indie scene, you'll see that most of the films premiered in Miami first before going on to national prominence. Even the pages of such mainstream tabloids as Entertainment Weekly feature reviews of films that found their US premieres at the MGLFF.

I don’t trust a board, whose primary knowledge and interests are financial, to make responsible decisions about the artistic merits of a fest. Sure, fiscal accountability is important, but who on the board knows the landscape of film like Coombes, or has the international connectedness to the film circuit like her. This is truly screwy, I think a move that reveals the egotism of its board.

Let's get real! This woman didn't lead any charge...the miami fest takes place before any of those other gay festivals around the world....getting the movies here first had more to do with timing and people wanting to come to Miami more than it did with Coombes. Their are people, in the community and in the film industry who just refuse to deal with her. A few years back when Robert Rosenberg and the festival parted ways, Coombes remained quite and unsupportive...to the very man who brought her here...maybe it's just that she now faces going back.

It gets even better. I just read an article in express news which indicated that the board of directors was eaten alive when they went half-cocked before the Miami Beach Gay Business Development Committee to present their "plan" to save the festival. In short, there is no plan. There are simply too many hurdles to cross for the festival to take place in April. They have to hire a new director, find a new office, hire a new staff, put together a program AND raise over $300,000 to cover the projected budget. I am hopeful that the 2009 MGLFF will take place but not optimistic. I would not be at all surprised if they end up cancelling the 2009 festival and concentrate instead on bringing it back in 2010. But who knows? They may be able to pull a rabbit out of their hat. Stay tuned!

Two main comments that I would like to add. I’m delighted that the MGLFF Board finally found their balls and let the Program Director go. As a major donor I objected strongly to how they had allowed Ms Coombes to highjack OUR Festival to pander her enormous ego with hoisting on us programming that at best was questionable, and was driving us away in droves.

But better late than never, and my partner and I sincerely hope that the new plans they are formatting now will provide us with a qualified team who will be able to build up on the legacy Robert Rosenfeld and Jaie LaPlante.

My 2nd point was that I was appalled at all the whining this article provoked from people who live up in Broward County. Could I just point out to the people in Miami-Wannabe City that they had a golden opportunity to have part of OUR Festival this year, yet on the Opening Night at the Parker Playhouse the auditorium was only 20% full. If you want your OWN Film Festival, stop whingeing, and start one. And take another leaf from the Community here in Miami Beach and actually put your money where your mouth is and support the Festival generously and enthusiastically as we all have for the past 10 years.

I feel that they should have given Carol another year as festival director with the understanding that it would be her last year. That way she would have gotten her green card and the festival could begin making a smoother transition. I repeat my previous advice to the board of directors which is to hire a new director who is from Miami and who knows the community and the types of films we want to see. Though Carol was apparently not well liked by everyone in the community, the way she was dismissed is no way to treat people.

I read recently that Jim Dobson, the former publicist is starting his own film festival the Miami Latin Gay Film Festival which will take place just one week before MGLFF. I also heard that the Board of directors offered the job to Michael Lumpkin, the former director of Frameline and he turned it down. I don't blame him. I don't think I would take the job either under these conditions. He probably didn't want to take the job and try to fix this mess only to have it all blow up in his face and end up being blamed for the whole thing.

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