TRAVERSE CITY — A jury may decide a dispute between the Traverse City Film Festival and former partner Boston Light & Sound — but not until February 2019.
The trial, set for Feb. 26-28, is the latest action in a lawsuit concerning $159,055.72 Film Fest failed to pay Boston for work at the 2017 festival. Film Fest officials paid a $100,000 deposit on the total $256,500 sum, but didn’t meet a September 2017 deadline for the rest. Boston seeks the unpaid 2017 sum, monthly interest and legal and court fees.
Judge Kevin Elsenheimer referred the parties to court-ordered mediation before the trial.
Film Fest lawyers Mark Dancer and George Powell requested a jury trial for the case earlier this month. They also requested 120 days to build the case — that discovery must be completed by Nov. 30.
Lists of trial witnesses and exhibits from Boston and Film Fest are due Aug. 23. A final conference is set for Dec. 28.
Film Fest Managing Director Susan Fisher said the 2017 contract between the pair was never finalized — just a budget estimate — voiding the festival’s legal obligation to pay.
“We want to make sure the funds actually reflect services provided,” she said. “We’ve been trying to work out what we owe them, what they owe us.”
Boston fired back against the claim in its court response and criticized the festival’s counterclaim that Boston failed to meet contractual obligations in 2013. Film Fest’s counterclaim seeks $25,000, plus court costs and legal fees, over discrepancies in a 2013 contract for Bijou by the Bay renovation work.
Boston Attorney Brian Lick accused the festival of submitting early drafts of the 2013 contract in an “attempt to delay the case, increase the cost of litigation and avoid a legitimate obligation to its creditor.”
The court response claims Film Fest deliberately excluded correspondence modifying the 2013 agreement, which was done to reduce costs for the festival.
“TCFF has absurdly denied that the signed and accepted 2017 detailed budget is a contract, while at the same time it is alleging that the unsigned early draft of the 2013 proposal is a contract,” court documents state. “TCFF has not disputed that BL&S fulfilled its obligations under the 2017 Contract.”
Boston’s work with Film Fest began more than 13 years ago, and the company’s services were not renewed for 2018.
Boston President Chapin Cutler said festival officials cited financial issues as a reason for the 2017 nonpayment, and the company’s court response alludes to late payments from Film Fest on past contracts as well.
Cutler said he worked with former Film Fest Director Deb Lake on a payment plan, but correspondence fell apart when she left the role in 2017. Discussions with the festival board in the spring proved “unsuccessful,” he added.
“There had been some spending beyond our means in the last couple years and we’re working on managing that now,” Fisher said.
Film Fest tax documents list contracts with Boston for $232,250 in 2016 and $298,148 in 2015, comparable to the 2017 agreement.
“We’ve been using the same form of contract for the last five or six years,” Cutler said. The terms and conditions, our financial relationship, had been the same.”
The 2018 Traverse City Film Festival kicks off with an opening night party Tuesday.
Lawyers for both parties did not return requests for comment.