Cast changes, but the show goes on 

For six years, the Florida Film Festival has enhanced the Enzian Theater's status as one of the area's true gems; set back amidst moss-draped oaks, the laid-back arthouse cinema counts a fan base that includes dues-paying film lovers who embrace the 12-year-old nonprofit organization as a loyal friend, and treasure their access. Perhaps that's why, when word circulated of change at the top, panic set in so quickly. Enzian's commitment to film -- particularly the Central Florida filmmaking community and, through its 10-day film festival each June, American independent cinema -- has never been challenged. But its commitment to the bottom line caused shudders after long-time executive Sigrid Tiedtke eased herself out last fall and Philip Tiedtke, her husband and a financial adviser for the theater that is owned and subsidized by his monied Winter Park family, became a more visible force. Preliminary talk about cutting back leaked out. Some festival competitions -- for example, student and short films -- were said to be on the ropes. Rumors flew after an online magazine, The Slant, published -- and six days later removed -- an anonymous report questioning whether there would be a festival this year. "There was indeed a time when we really didn't know" the fate of some festival components, says Mike Monello, marketing director for both the Enzian and the festival. Now that it's resolved, he says, "The festival's going in the same direction it did last year. There are certainly some internal changes, but they're real boring stuff." One change involves Monello himself; after four years, he is leaving the Enzian next month for a previous passion -- film editing -- and a more lucrative freelance job. After returning from the Sundance Film Festival as an Enzian rep, he expects to stay on as a volunteer judge in the local festival's screening process. Sigrid Tiedtke's "retirement" at the end of November after six years surprised neither Monello nor current Executive Director Melanie Gasper, who Sigrid Tiedtke hired last spring as her replacement. (Sigrid Tiedtke took the new title of "president," now unfilled as she finally takes long-delayed time to spend with her two kids, ages 11 and 14.) "Sig's stepping back process, which may appear sudden to some, is not sudden at all to me," Gasper says. "It's what she told me would happen, and what I had anticipated from the very beginning." Says Sigrid, who, with Philip, serves on the family-controlled board of governors that oversees the theater: "Enzian is a wonderful, wonderful place, with incredible potential. ... But it's also an awful lot of hard work." Describing Philip's increased profile, she says, "In a period of transition, it's not unusual for board members to take a more active role. As I step out, it's not unusual for somebody to really want to monitor things a bit." Gasper is a former executive of a Gainesville AIDS organization who started work at Enzian in the midst of last year's film festival; as such, she is planning her first one from scratch. "It's really important that we run our festival conservatively and wisely," she says. "Philip has been very helpful in shaping our original festival budget based on 'X' amount of projected income. ... The staff and I are very happy to know that the integrity of the festival is not in danger." Even so, its growth is slowing. With fundraising still under way, the 1998 festival budget is staying about even with last year's, says Gasper. That compares with 1997, which saw an increase in spending of more than 30 percent over the previous year. "It's a little like Clinton and the Republicans in Congress," says Philip Tiedtke. "Clinton hollers that they're cutting the budget, and the Republicans holler back that they are just reducing the increase." And though he holds no title in the Enzian organization, Philip -- who ran the first two festivals -- says, "I am trying to provide, along with Sigi, some institutional memory for what it takes to put on a film festival. Other than that, I'm responsible to my family to see that the festival is as fiscally sound as it can be, and at this point, I believe everyone on the staff and I have a comfort level that we're going to proceed with a very successful festival." Apart from the Enzian, Philip Tiedtke oversees his family's real estate and agricultural holdings in South and Central Florida, which provides for an affluence and philanthropy that is well known in the area. Philip's 90-year-old father, John Tiedtke, is founder and a guiding light of the long-established Bach Festival. But anxiety about Philip's Enzian responsibilities are rooted in personality as much as in concerns about the festival's direction. Sigrid Tiedtke is nurturing; Philip can be brusque, and was subjected to a sexual harassment charge during his last festival stewardship. Following Sigrid's exit from the Enzian, Philip and others say he has just assumed more prominence in an advisory role that he has always performed, albeit with his wife as an intermediary; with that buffer removed, concern arises about where else his influence may be felt -- and how. He, however, sees his role as strictly operations -- not artistic. Programmer Matthew Curtis is still on board; Peg O'Keef has again signed on as the festival's special projects coordinator. Is change at the top simply a normal transition? Philip pauses. "I wish I knew, from looking at a bud, exactly how a flower was going to turn out," he says. "But I think we all have great hopes."


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