Sexual Assault Allegations Have Roiled Austin's Film Scene. Here's What Happened.
Editor's note: This post contains explicit language.
A series of sexual assault scandals has prompted an intense debate in Austin’s independent film community — and beyond — for the past year, reaching a fever pitch in the past few weeks.
It revolves around the conduct of a pair of film bloggers and the handling of allegations against them by Tim League, the founder and CEO of the Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse.
The scandals began about a year ago, when Devin Faraci, then the editor in chief of the Drafthouse-run film blog Birth.Movies.Death, tweeted a reaction to the release of a tape of Donald Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women.
A Twitter user with the handle @spacecrone replied to the tweet, accusing Faraci of grabbing her by the vagina.
The user, who identified herself only as Caroline to the Hollywood Reporter at the time, said the incident happened at a bar in New York in 2004.
"We were dancing and he stuck his hands down my pants, very blatantly on the dance floor. I said stop. He did it again. I kind of didn’t know what to do. I stopped him again and pushed him away," she says. "There was no penetration. He just kept sticking his hands down my pants and into my crotch. Then he came in to do it again."
On Twitter, Faraci claimed to not remember the incident, but asked forgiveness.
The allegations brought calls for the Drafthouse to fire Faraci, who resigned as editor in chief of Birth.Movies.Death shortly thereafter, telling Variety:
“This weekend allegations were made about my past behavior. Because I take these types of claims seriously I feel my only honorable course of action is to step down from my position as Editor-in-Chief of Birth.Movies.Death. I will use the coming weeks and months to work on becoming a better person who is, I hope, worthy of the trust and loyalty of my friends and readers.”
Caroline told Variety at the time that she spoke with League:
“We had a really good conversation about it that left me feeling like he understood the situation and was interested in helping Devin...I’m really happy that Tim League took this seriously and that Devin is interested in getting treatment. I’ve let them know that I’m available for any accountability processing that might be part of his rehabilitation.”
Fast-forward to earlier this month, when George Hickman, a member of the Austin film community, pointed out that Faraci was writing for the website of the Drafthouse’s Fantastic Fest.
Following outcry over the decision to re-employ Faraci, League acknowledged that he was indeed working for the Drafthouse again, writing on Facebook on Sept. 12:
“Seeing the work that Devin has been doing to acknowledge his faults, to address his addiction, and to better himself, I thought it was important to contribute to his recovery process by helping him with some means to earn a living. Once it became clear that his efforts were sincere, I offered Devin copywriting work at Alamo Drafthouse and have recently expanded that to include writing blurbs for our Fantastic Fest festival guide. He does not hold any leadership position at Alamo Drafthouse or Fantastic Fest and is not involved with Birth.Movies.Death. in any capacity.”
"I understand there's some discomfort with the idea that Devin is once again employed by the Alamo Drafthouse. However, I am very much an advocate for granting people second chances, and I believe that Devin deserves one. He continues to confront his issues and to better himself with the help of his friends and family. I am proud to consider myself a part of this process."
Human beings make mistakes, and when they acknowledge those mistakes and embark upon a journey of personal improvement, they deserve forgiveness. If, God forbid, I somehow find myself in a similar place down the road, my hope is that my actions up until this point have warranted others to offer the same help to me.
League’s response, which many critics saw as diminishing the allegations against Faraci, prompted more outrage. On Sept. 13, Faraci resigned again.
League made the announcement in a memo to Drafthouse employees posted to Facebook.
At least one Drafthouse employee, Fantastic Fest programmer Todd Brown, resigned in protest over the whole ordeal. In his resignation letter, according to IndieWire, Brown pointed to the “callous disregard for the impact” of rehiring Faraci.
“Anyone who has ever suggested that Fantastic Fest and the Drafthouse is just the geek friendly equivalent of the classic Old Boys Club, you have just been proven correct. We have just seen that Club in action. There it is, the Club utterly ignoring the victim while it creates a protective ring around the perpetrator. Telling every woman who has ever been harassed or assaulted that the predatory males around them will be protected if they are a part of the Club. Telling every woman that the Sad Man whose life is a shambles because of his own actions deserves help and support in putting himself back together while she deserves … nothing.”
Two days later, on Sept. 15, League issued an apology via Facebook, saying his goal is to “change course.”
But within a few weeks, the furor over the culture at Alamo Drafthouse was reignited.
On Sept. 23, IndieWire reported that Austinite Jasmine Baker made allegations that another Drafthouse-connected man had sexually assaulted her at a Drafthouse event.
Baker said Harry Knowles, the founder of the film/TV/comics news site Ain’t It Cool News and a co-founder of Fantastic Fest, assaulted her at an event in 1999 or 2000.
“Baker was at a Drafthouse event when Knowles allegedly rubbed up against her buttocks and legs in a way that made her feel uncomfortable. While she was initially willing to consider it an accident, she said that on a later occasion he rubbed up against her again; she confronted him about his behavior, and made it clear that he did not have her consent to touch her in any manner. “He just giggled about it,” she said. On at least one occasion, Baker alleges that he also put his hand under her shirt."
Knowles denied the accusation when asked about it by IndieWire.
Baker said she told Drafthouse founders Tim and Karrie League about the incident.
“At the time, “their suggestion was, ‘Just avoid him,’ she said. “And I did that. In light of all that has happened for them publicly, today they might make a different choice about how to handle someone they did business with. But at that time, they were trying to bring inclusiveness to everyone and also didn’t want to confront a business partner.”
In addition to being a Fantastic Fest founder, Knowles also hosted an annual marathon screening event at the Drafthouse.
(UPDATE 9/27/2017 9:00 a.m.: IndieWire is reporting at least four more women have come forward with accusations of sexual harassment and sexual assault by Knowles.)
In a letter today, Tim League said the Drafthouse is no longer in business with Knowles.
“Moving forward, we have severed all ties with Harry Knowles and he is no longer affiliated with the company in any capacity,” he wrote. “We are striving to better respond to allegations of sexual assault and harassment, and will take actions so those who work at the theater or attend as a guest are not made to feel unsafe.”
Meantime, the Austin Film Critics Association announced it is kicking Knowles out of the group.
A statement regarding Harry Knowles. pic.twitter.com/1vzPTpse0a— Austin Film Critics Association (@ATXFilmCritics) September 26, 2017
At least two members of the Ain’t It Cool News staff have also resigned over the allegations.
September 25, 2017
An announcement about my leaving Ain't It Cool News. pic.twitter.com/4vyJIhMycQ— Steven Prokopy (@SteveProkopy) September 25, 2017
Multiple reports say Knowles has "stepped away" from his position at Ain't It Cool News, saying his sister would be filling his role.
Teaching my sister the ins and outs of AICN for take-over. I feel she's doing a great job, while I step away. Tomorrow she emails contacts— Harry Knowles (@headgeek666) September 27, 2017
There were rumors last week that Tim League planned to resign, but League denied this on Twitter.
League said he is skipping this year’s Fantastic Fest, which goes until Sept. 28, to travel around to Alamo Drafthouse locations across the country and listen to some of the company’s 4,500 employees’ feelings about what has happened over the past year.