Last fall, Bo Smith left his post as Head of Film, Video, and Concerts at the Museum of Fine Arts — after more than 20 years of creative, successful programming — to become the executive director of the Denver Film Society. Now after just 8 months, it turns out that he's been sacked after 21 staff members resigned, apparently in protest of his management style. IndieWire had details a couple of weeks ago:
I worked with Bo for a dozen years. I edited and proofread his Film Calendars and ran interference between him and the Publications team over his countless missed deadlines — always because he was desperate to squeeze in a few more French films or waiting on an extraordinary possibility in China, India, or Iran. I also handled reservations for public events in the MFA's Remis Auditorium. I used to refer to him as "The Vapor Fog," because his goal was to fill every free, precious minute in the hall with public, private, or critics' screenings.
I would characterize his working style as passionately and tirelessly dedicated to his mission. He was relentless in pursuit of the best cinema for Boston audiences and in overcoming all obstacles in his way. But he was always sunny, pleasant, and even-tempered in the process. He and I were continually having deadline battles and negotiations over valuable program time-slots — and it was always gracious and kind of fun. I don't recall ever hearing an uncivil word from him.
While he still managed to drive his colleagues at the museum crazy, at least some of us couldn't help enjoying him, too. And I doubt that anyone had anything other than respect for the quality, breadth, and diversity of his programming. If he caused problems, they were always because he was striving to give Boston audiences the best; it was never about ego, personal insecurities, or power games — the stuff one routinely encounters in the hothouse environment of an arts organization. Bo seemed like a refreshing change of pace, at least to me. His only agenda was programming more good films. (And more. And more....)
As deadlines came and went, unmet, I would complain to him and about him, but I still had loads of admiration for him and his work. (He was the Film Program.) To be fair, he had one or two intolerable eccentricities. He was forbidden to bring his lunch into my office, for example. He often ran around swigging his meals out of a canning jar — a healthy concoction that started with his own homemade yogurt, blended with (raw?) fish, seaweed, and something red, which could have been tomato juice or fish blood. I never asked, and it smelled revolting.
To return to those unfortunate headlines. I'm sure the Denver Film Society employees are all dedicated, hardworking people, too, so why couldn't they all just get along? One of my theories is that the Denver crew was deeply set in its ways, having had the same founder/director for 30 years, so any new director would have faced a similar potential mutiny unless he or she spent a year or two on tiptoeing on eggshells. (Or replaced people.) Instead of trying to adapt, it appears they put their energy into organizing themselves.
Or perhaps we, his colleagues at the MFA, should blame ourselves. If we hadn't jumped through so many hoops, had pushed back harder on Bo's wilder schemes, and kept him down, he might have evolved into a different type of boss. Or it could have simply been those jars of raw fish.
Whatever happened, I hope this contretemps turns out to be a great opportunity for Boston, and that Bo finds a way to return to the area and run a great film program. He'd surely be welcomed and appreciated.