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Multiple Inaccuracies in Milwaukee Magazine Story

An Open Letter to Bruce Murphy

May. 1, 2008
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Mr. Murphy,

As one of the “bold names” in your blurb about the Milwaukee International Film Festival, I feel that I have no choice but to point out the multiple inaccuracies in the story.

I’ll start at the beginning- with your title: “Film Festival in Danger?” At no point in your article do you maintain that the Film Festival is actually in danger of being suspended. And rightly so
there will absolutely be a 2008 Milwaukee International Film Festival, and 2009, 2010, 2011you get the idea. You do a great disservice to the tens of thousands of Festival attendees when you suggest that the Festival will not take place. Milwaukee’s Future Foundation has not “shut off funding” of the Festival, and there will always be plenty of funding for such a great event- and one so important to Milwaukee’s stature as a city with offerings every bit as diverse as Chicago or Minneapolis.

You mention that the Festival benefited greatly from Chris Abele’s donations through his Argosy Foundation. No one has made comments to the contrary, and to imply that anyone did is to fan the imagined flames around this great Milwaukee institution.

At no point did Louis Fortis demand that the Milwaukee International Film Festival repay $250,000 in debt. The Shepherd Express has loaned over $438,000 (all verified by third parties) to the Film Festival, and $106,000 of that amount is yet to be repaid. There is as much as $250,000 outstanding when one includes contributions from the Shepherd Express to the film festival in categories such as paying for their telephone service, internet service, rent, office supplies, and time spent by Shepherd Express employees on Festival projects. Mr. Fortis has NEVER asked for repayment of any of these in-kind contributions. To imply that he did is to slander the one person who has spent more on the festival than anyone else
both in time and money. All of this information was known by all involved parties, and available to you for the asking.

Your article contains several more false implications and inaccuracies which I’ll cover briefly:

  • All tax returns through 2006 related to the film festival have been filed properly and within the time allotted for filing. The 2007 books have been audited by an outside auditor and the tax return is being completed now.
  • You imply that over $90,000 was spent on advertising with the Shepherd Express. That sum was spent on advertising in the Milwaukee Journal, the Isthmus, and the Chicago Reader, among other media outlets. Less than 28% of the advertising expenditures of the film festival went to the Shepherd Express- arguably the publication best aligned with the film festival’s target demographic. All the other publications were paid, only the balance due the Shepherd Express remains outstanding.
  • You neglect to mention that Mr. Fortis has unconditionally agreed to all audit requests, and that the requested audit is already in motion.

Finally, to the most important part as far as I’m concerned
your misrepresentation of my involvement with the Milwaukee International Film Festival. You imply wrongdoing when you state: “But it gets worse. In 2005, the nonprofit’s books were in the care of Matthew Astbury, who is the finance manager for the Shepherd.” You point out no evidence of wrongdoing of any kind, nor was there any wrongdoing on my part or on anyone else’s part. Moreover, your dates are incorrect. I had no involvement with the Film Festival until the 2nd quarter of 2006. Since that time, I have merely helped the Milwaukee International Film Festival keep books that adhere to generally accepted accounting principles, as the festival does not employ an in-house accountant.

I am sure you will issue a prompt apology for your mischaracterization of my unpaid, uncredited volunteer work with the Milwaukee International Film Festival.

Thank you,

Matthew Astbury

Operations and Finance Manager

Shepherd Express/ExpressMilwaukee.com

Some additional information:

The Shepherd Express has never taken a donation write-off based on its contributions
either allocated expenses or direct paymentsto the Milwaukee International Film Festival. Expenses incurred in the process of growing the Film Festival to its current level of success have always been booked as a loan payable to the Shepherd Express on the Film Festival books, and as a loan receivable from the Film Festival on the books of the Shepherd Express. These facts are clear in the federal tax return filings of both entities.

The “consulting fee” referred to in your story simply represents combined expenses for box office services and theater rentals for the first year of the Festival. Subsequent years’ tax returns have these expenses better defined and broken out into separate line items. At no point did Mr. Fortis benefit personally from his involvement with the Festival. Indeed, Mr. Fortis has spent much time and money to advance the Festival as a cultural institution in Milwaukee.


Related Links:

Milwaukee Magazine Story "Film Festival in Danger?"

Shepherd Express Story "The Future of the Milwaukee International Film Festival"

Milwaukee International Film Festival

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