Update 8/3/18, 6:30 p.m.: In a written response provided to IPR, the Traverse City Film Festival writes, "In December 2017, after a unanimous vote by the Traverse City Film Festival Board of Directors, the executive committee of the board met with Deb Lake in-person to inform her that her employment was terminated."
Update 8/3/18, 11 a.m.: Former TCFF Executive Director Deb Lake disputes festival founder Michael Moore's account of her dismissal. At yesterday's town hall meeting, Moore stated the festival board terminated Lake in December. In an email to IPR, Lake says she believes Moore's statement is false and that he was the one who decided to terminate her.
She writes, "I believe that the decision was made unilaterally by Michael, as almost all decisions made by TCFF were during my 13 years with the festival. The implication that the board had an ethical or legal duty to terminate my employment with TCFF is also false.”
Lake also says she has not seen any evidence that the board met or discussed her employment.
Michael Moore discussed the turmoil within the Traverse City Film Festival during a town hall meeting at the Old Town Playhouse yesterday.
“We want you to feel very comfortable,” Moore said to the crowd. “There’s no such thing as a bad question. You can ask us anything you want.”
The filmmaker was immediately asked why the festival’s past two executive directors — Deb Lake and Joe Beyer — left.
In December the festival’s website said longtime Executive Director Deb Lake was “stepping down” and “moving on to other opportunities.” Yesterday, Moore told the crowd the festival board terminated Lake after 13 years working for the festival, and referred to both ethical and legal obligations in making the decision.
“We did what any group like this has to do when faced with a situation that we were faced with,” he explained. “And we had a responsibility to this institution and its longevity so that it exists long beyond us.”
Moore didn’t offer specifics, saying that he wanted to respect Lake’s privacy. But he did say he expects to be able to offer a complete explanation of what happened in the coming months.
“There are certain things we are not able to talk about now but we will talk about,” he said. “I think those will be resolved by the end of this year.”
As for Joe Beyer, the recent executive director who resigned after three weeks on the job earlier this year, Moore said it just wasn’t a good fit, and that was agreed upon mutually.
In an email to IPR in May, Beyer wrote he “discovered challenges for the organization” he felt his “experiences and expertise couldn't address.”
When asked if he knew what those challenges were, Moore replied, “I don’t know what they were. He hasn’t spoken to me about it.”
More recently, the festival has been in the news over a legal dispute with Boston Light & Sound – an equipment and service provider which sued the festival for roughly $160,000 it says the festival owes from last year.
Moore disputes those claims and is now counter suing for services he says should have been provided – but never were.
“We’ve learned that perhaps we should be suing them,” he said. “It’s not that we owe them — perhaps — we may not owe them anything. They owe us.”
The town hall meeting lasted nearly two hours yesterday. The Traverse City Film Festival, which is celebrating its 14th year, wraps up on Sunday night.