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Mondell cites a Dec. 20 incident at the Quadrangle Grill as evidence of the pressure Alexander is bringing to bear. She and Alexander had agreed to have lunch and discuss the issue.

To Mondell's surprise, trustee Dan Owen joined them. Owen told Mondell "in no uncertain terms that he paid a lot of money to be a trustee" and that she was trying to "undermine" the organization. Owen then warned her either to "find a way to work with this group" or resign from the festival's board of directors, "because if you don't, then people will oppose you and discredit you."

"To me," says Mondell, who secretly taped the lunch meeting with a small cassette player, "that sounds like a bit of a threat."

Owen declined to be quoted for this article.
Sutton says it is Mondell, not Ann Alexander, who has taken the dispute to ugly extremes, including making outrageous allegations about Alexander's motives.

Maloney and the other three committee members present at the private December 13 meeting also chose to relay their views through the USA Film Festival's publicist.

Speaking through Sutton, the group admits to neither wrongdoing nor error, with one exception: it concedes that the search committee's role wasn't properly explained to it in advance, which might have led members to believe that they were actually picking a director, rather than merely recommending one.

Maloney vigorously denies rumors that his change of heart was the result of pressure from Alexander. Yet it seems clear from the festival's publicist that Alexander held sway in the decision. "Everybody on that search committee had an equal voice," Sutton told the Observer, "but when it comes down to it, you've got to ask: who's really better qualified to make a decision like this than Ann, who's been running things day in and day out for eight years now?

"The situation has turned into this hellfire, and I don't think it's justified. Would these people [who favored Glatzer] rather have an administrative director who doesn't care what happens, or somebody who's willing to go out and fight for something she believes in?"

"The organization is strong, and I'm sure we'll carry on," says John Eichman, who voted for Glatzer on the first round, yet now says he supports the president's choice for pragmatic reasons. "But the fact remains that what could have been a great opportunity for the festival has fallen into a big morass of internal confusion and strife. What this organization managed to do is take a win-win situation, in which we were faced with a choice between two very qualified people who each could have contributed something substantive to the USA Film Festival, and we somehow turned it into a losing situation.

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Matt Zoller Seitz