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REEL CHANGE: ALTER OUT AS FESTIVAL HEAD

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By LINDA G. RASTELLI

Disagreements over a monthly film series have led to the resignation of Richard Alter as chairman of the Freedom Film Society, the nonprofit group that puts on the widely acclaimed Red Bank International Film Festival each year.

Alter and his wife, Amy, quit the society’s board of trustees last month after what Alter calls “philosophical differences” with president Marc Leckstein over the role of the monthly series in the society’s offerings.

Leckstein, a Little Silver attorney, says the departures won’t have any impact on plans for this year’s festival, scheduled for Oct. 5-7.

Alter, pharmacy manager for Meridian Health, has been replaced as chairman by Rumson resident Andrew Malecki, an aspiring filmmaker and assistant manager at Clearview Cinemas on White Street, one of three venues used by the festival.

Malecki, who is just 19 years old, was the subject of a redbankgreen profile story in March.

The monthly Freedom Film Series brought independent films to the Clearview for a single screening, each followed by a Q&A with indie-industry players, most of them affiliated with the films shown that night.

The series, which was revived in May after a brief dormancy, drew a packed house for “Snake Hill‘ (a documentary about a Hudson County mental health institution by New Jersey fillmmakers), and a strong turnout for “Deliver Us From Evil,” a doc about a pedophilic priest.

But a far smaller audience showed up in July for the feature film “Kubrador (The Bet Collector),” from the Philippines. The title of the August screening was never announced, and a society representative told redbankgreen at the time that the series was on hiatus.

Leckstein declined to discuss the dispute over the series in detail. Alter, though, says it was his view that the society should not stake it’s membership-bolstering efforts on a single, annual event, whereas Leckstein thought the group should focus its attention on the annual event and forego the monthly screenings for now.

“There was a tremendous amount of dissension” within the society, Alter says. He says he and Amy decided to step away “so as not to hurt the organization so close to the festival.” He adds that he and his wife “tried to leave on a good note, let’s put it that way.

“Marc is a good guy with a good vision,” he says.

Alter, of Farmingdale, says he and his wife are setting up a group to be called the Red Bank Film Society, which will produce a weekly series, probably at the Clearview, starting early next year.

That could make this winter especially sweet for indie film lovers: Leckstein says the Freedom Film Society plans to restart its monthly series in December.

The series, Leckstein says, is temporarily on hold while the organization “consolidates our resources” for the big festival in October. The group, which has about 13 volunteers, is finalizing the roster of films to be shown in the festival, a list that should be available in early September. Last year, the festival screened more than 50 feature-length and short films.

Leckstein downplayed the impact of the dispute and the resignations. As an all-volunteer organization, the society sees people come and go all the time for all manner of reasons, he says.

“I wish them well,” Leckstein says of the Alters.

Meantime, the society is also “working hard to gain sponsors and increase membership,” Malecki tells redbankgreen.

Though it has now now gone two years without a $20,000 State Council of the Arts grant that it previously had, the society recently landed a $10,000 sponsorship from the World Subaru dealership in Tinton Falls, “the biggest sponsorship we’ve ever gotten,” Malecki says.

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