Aussie Rules at AFI Dallas

Reel busy: Tearlach Hutcheson, pictured here during construction of the Magnolia Theater in 2002, is now managing director of the AFI Dallas film fest.

Some time this week, the newly established AFI Dallas International Film Festival will announce its new (by which I mean, its first) managing director: Tearlach Hutcheson. If his name sounds familiar, it's because he's had extensive experience operating two of Dallas' art-house theaters: the Inwood (where he was also head of publicity and promotions a few years back) and the Magnolia (where he oversaw the theater's construction). And it was Hutcheson who also was in charge of the Inwood's recent makeover. In recent years he's also been the director of development for the Landmark Theatres chain, which is owned by Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner.

In his new job, he will oversee "the logistics and budget responsibilities for the new festival," says AFI Dallas CEO, artistic director and co-founder Michael Cain. "He will also help define the mission of the festival and...act as an ambassador for the festival to the city and its various cultural and film organizations. With me, he will act as an ambassador to the world for the festival. He will help the team already in place set goals for the festival both in the short term and over a five-year plan."

To put it plainly, he will have a hand in everything from programming to accounting. "I am the yin to Michael's yang," Hutcheson tells Unfair Park.

Cain approached Hutcheson about the job a few days before Thanksgiving, when they ran into each other at an AFI-sponsored screening of the movie Come Early Morning. Cain suggested they have lunch, they did, and after Hutcheson "flew through interviews" with AFI higher-ups, as Cain puts it, Hutcheson was offered the job -- but only after Cuban and Wagner gave their blessings, which weren't difficult to get since Wagner more or less suggested Cain try to bring AFI to Dallas in the first place last year. "Had it not been for Todd and Mark allowing him to consider this opportunity, none of this would have been possible," Cain says.

Hutcheson doesn't officially begin at AFI Dallas till January 1, but already he's working with programmer James Faust -- who, with his staff, has already begun combing through more than 900 submissions, which doesn't include movies they will seek out for the fest that bows on March 22.

"Michael has personality traits I am jealous of," Hutcheson says. (In the interest of full disclosure, Hutcheson's a close family friend.) "He's a very charismatic individual, and he has the ability to talk to people, whereas I am more of a detailed-oriented, operations-oriented guy. On Friday I said to the staff, 'My job is to guide you and teach you to do a better job.' That sounds dorky, but that's my management style."

Hutcheson, in addition to having built the Magnolia and rebuilt the Inwood, is more than a film-bizzer: He teaches film courses at SMU -- on both the business side (exhibition and distribution) and the artistic flip side (senior seminars in film history and film theory). This may be the first gig he's ever had that allows him to use both sides of his movie brain.

"Everyone else is telling me how great this is going to be and how great I will be at the job and what a great job this is to get, and I don't think it's sunk in yet," he says. "I used to use a phrase at the Magnolia, which was something like, 'You're not cool just because you work here. Because you work here, people think you're cool.' This is a great film festival and a big task that everyone has ahead of them to make it successful. I see all the great things that can be done and will be done. At the end of the day you have a lot of responsibility to provide the city and its filmgoers with an event they can be proud of, and with type of support this festival has received locally and from national corporations, it has the ability to shine. It's our job now to deliver that experience." --Robert Wilonsky


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