Just days before the eighth annual Napa Valley Film Festival was to begin, co-founders Marc and Brenda Lhormer have been ousted.
The Board of Directors of Cinema Napa Valley (CNV) announced Saturday afternoon it is ending its association with employees Marc and Brenda Lhormer and Zin Haze Productions, effective immediately.
Patrick Davila is chairman of the board of Cinema Napa Valley. He is also director of operations for Meadowood Napa Valley Resort in St. Helena.
“We acknowledge the foundation that Marc and Brenda have laid and are excited about this year’s festival lineup and events. We look forward to a fresh start for 2019 under the Cinema Napa Valley name,” stated Davila.
On Sunday afternoon, the Lhormers released the following statement: “This move was sudden and without warning. It is also frustrating timing given that we’ve been leading the charge with our team all year in developing, planning and promoting this week’s eighth annual Napa Valley Film Festival. We each play critical roles in the careful orchestration and production of each year’s festival to assure that all attendees – audience, artists, sponsors and partners, volunteers – have the best possible set of experiences. We have lived and loved this festival since its inception.
“We are proud of the festival we have created, and we love and support our team and this community.”
According to the press release, Cinema Napa Valley will present The Napa Valley Film Festival as planned from Nov. 7-11. As it prepares for 2019, CNV will be moving forward under a new name for the festival (“Cinema Napa Valley”) with the support of numerous key sponsors and community organizations.
Cinema Napa Valley, a 501c3 nonprofit organization, was founded in 2009 and has its headquarters in Napa. The Lhormers are founders of both the film festival and the nonprofit organization, Cinema Napa Valley.
When the Lhormers spoke to the St. Helena Star’s editorial board in late June, Brenda said they are “working on our succession plan. We’re not going to be around for very much longer.” When pressed if it was going to be one year, three years or five years, she responded, “You’ll know soon, we will announce it very soon.” She added that she and Mark hope the festival retains a “feeling of community, which is very important to us. I hope that is always part of the experience.”
In reviewing last year’s film festival, the Lhormers said it was a challenge, because of the October wildfires in Northern California that happened less than a month before the start of the event. Marc said, “Attendance was down 15 percent, which was largely from the people making plans to come in the last four to six weeks before the festival. Those people were looking at the images on the television.”
Attendance at film festivals is not counted by how many people attend the festival, but instead by how many films each person sees, Marc said. In 2016, the total was 50,000 during the week-long festival. Last year, the estimate was 42,500, or about 11,000 people.
Last year, it cost nearly $6 million to stage the Napa Valley Film Festival, almost $3 million in cash and another $3 million in in-kind donations. Marc said, “The film festival is a very difficult business.”
After the film festival ended, organizers donated $11,000 to the Napa Valley Community Foundation’s Disaster Relief Fund.
Other generous donations in November included a $6,000 grant from the Grace Family Foundation to underwrite tickets for local students and veterans to see the inspiring documentary film “Blood Road” on Veterans Day, and the Lexus donation of $25,000 worth of tickets to select movies for victims of the fires.
The Lhormers founded the festival in 2009 and presented the first NVFF in 2011. As well as co-founders, Marc is the executive and artistic director and Brenda is co-director. Before that, the Lhormers ran the Sonoma Valley Film Festival for seven years, from 2001 to 2008. They also produced the movie “Bottleshock.”
Brenda graduated from Stanford University in 1983 and worked in marketing and communications; Marc earned his MBA from Stanford in 1986. He was in operations and entrepreneurship when the two met in 1987. They married in 1991.