Film Curator Shown the Exit

Keiko Beatie Photo from almasurf.com website.

Keiko Beatie Photo from almasurf.com website.

Veteran surf filmmaker Jack McCoy’s “A Deeper Shade of Blue” screened at 400 theaters around the country this past Thursday, a one-night performance but a major splash for an indie movie.

The film recounting surf culture’s evolution was buoyed in part by local film consultant Sharon Keiko Mori Beatie, who played a behind-the-scenes role promoting McCoy’s 25th movie which picked up awards at film festivals in the surf capitals of Maui and Durbin, South Africa, in 2011.

Yet the career-burnishing debut for Beatie is clouded by her own abrupt dismissal on March 3 from the Laguna Beach Film Society, one of the Laguna Art Museum’s support-group councils. Court records show it is at least the third local non-profit to dismiss Beatie for apparent financial improprieties in 18 years.

“We’re no longer working with Keiko because we’re no longer comfortable with the manner in which she was curating our program,” said Malcolm Warner, the museum’s executive director, who declined to provide further details. George Weiss, chair of the Laguna Beach Film Society, also declined comment.

Reached by phone, Beatie blamed the split in the 10-year relationship on Warner’s decision to shift the film society’s programming towards California filmmakers, underscoring the museum’s own emphasis on California artists.

“That’s not my forte,” said Beatie, who prefers avant-garde and foreign titles and also picked up an associate producer credit on the 2008 documentary “Surfing 50 States,” according to film wedsite IMDb. “I felt they were unhappy with my programming.”

Beatie recommended and obtained films for the society’s monthly screenings at downtown’s South Coast Cinema. She usually led a discussion at a pre-screening potluck for the society’s 77 members and visitors. Warner said she wasn’t paid for her curatorial services, but was reimbursed for licensing fees to obtain films from such companies as St. Louis-based Swank Motion Pictures, a non-theatrical distributor that grants film licenses to colleges, cruise lines, libraries, prisons and museums. A typical fee ranged from $200 to $400.

“Her out-of-pocket invoices never seemed unreasonable,” said Bolton Colburn, the art museum’s former executive director, who more recently tapped Beatie to produce film events for San Clemente’s Surfing Heritage Foundation.

Even so, museum officials earlier this month learned Beatie had submitted fake license-fee invoices for as many as five films, according to people with knowledge of the situation, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue. Beatie sought reimbursement for film fees at the distributors’ usual rates but never obtained the rights to show the movies, these people said.

Beatie declined to comment when asked about the museum billing irregularities or two previous incidents where court records show that she admitted thefts.

On the “Deeper Shade of Blue” website, she is listed as a contact person and a representative of New World Distribution, a company that is not registered on the California Secretary of State’s website.

Before getting involved in film, Beatie worked two years as an accountant for the now defunct Brandy’s Friends, until the Laguna Beach nonprofit that provided alcohol- and drug-abuse counseling to teens discovered a $10,000 embezzlement in 1996. Beatie pled guilty to grand theft on March 20, 1997, and was sentenced to three years probation, court records show.

“We were devastated,” said one of the founders. “We counted on donations to assist families in need and to take those funds for personal use was unacceptable.”

Beatie later admitted to “wrong doing” involving the Newport Beach Film Festival, which claimed she embezzled $2,885 between November 2004 and November 2005, according to small-claims records in Orange County Superior Court. She worked as an independent consultant in features programming.

The terms of the judgment, sought against Beatie by festival executive Gregg Schwenk, are still subject to a nondisclosure agreement and are not in the court record, according to Irvine’s Keith Rosenbaum, the festival’s attorney, who described the improprieties as “a misuse of funds.”

“If they had done their homework, they might not have hired her,” said Rosenbaum, referring to the museum. “She has a problem. She needs to get help.”

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