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Cliff Froehlich to retire from Cinema St. Louis after leading it for nearly 20 years

Cinema St. Louis Executive Director Cliff Froehlich plans to retire in June, after nearly 19 years with the organization.

Froehlich's planned retirement sets in motion a search for a new leader at Cinema St. Louis, which hosts the St. Louis International Film Festival, the Robert Classic French Film Festival and QFest.

“I thought it was time at this stage,” Froehlich said. “Not because I don't think I have anything more to give, but rather, I think it's always wise to have sort of an infusion of fresh blood into an organization. And I just thought that this was an appropriate juncture to step aside.”

His departure follows significant disruptions in the film industry as the coronavirus pandemic forced some arts institutions and venues to temporarily shut their doors because of canceled events and lost revenue. Cinema St. Louis moved the 2020 international film festival online and adopted a hybrid model last year to show some movies online and use the Tivoli Theatre in the Delmar Loop and other venues to screen films.

Cliff Froehlich will leave Cinema St. Louis in June after spending 19 years with the organization.
Cinema St. Louis
Cliff Froehlich will leave Cinema St. Louis in June after spending 19 years with the organization.

But Froehlich said Cinema St. Louis weathered the disruption of the pandemic by going virtual, cutting transportation, rental and printing costs during the 2020 international film festival.

“We shifted to doing interviews with people through Zoom,” Froehlich said. "So it's not like we closed off the notion of having guests associated with the films, but we didn't have to fly them in, that was a saving. We didn't have to rent venues, we didn't have to produce a printed program.”

Cinema St. Louis board members praised Froehlich for his leadership and said the organization has been able to survive financial challenges. Last month, the organization also received a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts as a part of the American Rescue Plan.

Board President David Johnson said the search for a successor will give the organization a chance to focus on its future.

“The last two years have been challenging for an in-person, festival-based organization, not being able to do a lot of the things that we normally do,” Johnson said. “The staff and Cliff's leadership had to figure out how to do things in a new way.”

Froehlich plans to volunteer with the organization after he retires. He hopes a new leader will continue to find new ways to attract audiences.

“I think it sometimes takes somebody new to come in, and actually identify brand-new paths forward,” Froehlich said. "And so I think they're going to be looking for that sort of innovation and fresh perspective."

Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.