By Simon de Bruyn

For the second year in a row, the program manager for the Dungog Film Festival has departed in the weeks leading up to the festival, amid rumours of internal disputes at its distribution company Australian Film Syndicate.

The program for the festival was launched April 29 in Sydney. However most of the program remained under wraps.

Dungog program manager and AFS acquisition manager Peter Castaldi sent an email to industry contacts last Thursday announcing his departure.

“I have to inform you that effective immediately I no longer have any professional association with the Australian Film Syndicate or any of its partners or officers,” he wrote.

This follows the departure of the company’s development and business affairs manager Anna Reeves approximately six weeks ago, in addition to consultant creative director Ahmed Salama, who left in early March.

Castaldi’s departure mirrors that of Andrew Lawrence, the program manager for the 2008 festival, who departed without announcement immediately prior to last year’s festival.

Castaldi was originally appointed AFS national distribution manager when the company launched in September last year, a role later taken by company managing director Allanah Zitserman.

During the past few months he has also been working independently of AFS, working directly with the filmmakers behind Restraint and Acolytes on short run theatrical releases, in addition to his AFS and Dungog roles.

Before his announcement last week he was listed on the AFS website as consultant acquisitions executive. Several other staff had been reappointed as consultants, such as consultant distributor Andrew Pike and consultant business strategy John Wiltshire.

Further changes were made to the staff structure following Castaldi’s announcement. Wiltshire has been reappointed as consultant business management, and Cassie Kelly has had a role change to festival and events, from her previous role as Dungog Film Festival coordinator.

In addition, playwright Alexandra Edmondson has been appointed development executive. Sanja Zekanovic is also now listed under art department.

AFS has distributed two Australian films since launching in September last year, Bitter & Twisted and The Combination. Forthcoming films include Jonathan Ogilvie’s Emulsion, and Stone Bros (formerly To Hell and Back) while another planned release Honeymoon in Kabul will no longer be distributed by the syndicate.

AFS has declined to comment.

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