(UPDATED) W[t]F? WorldFest Founder/CEO Hunter Todd Searches Fest Attendee's Bag "Because She Is a Muslim."

Categories: Film and TV

Worldfest560.jpg
Image via WorldFest.org.

Update: We just received a statement from Hunter Todd about the event in which he confirms that he did search the backpack of a woman because she was wearing a hijab and says he had to do it to protect his audience. Find his entire statement at the end of this post.

Last weekend marked the end of the 46th annual WorldFest. The film festival, third oldest in North America, bills itself as a "competitive International Film Festival" and lists as part of its mission/vision statement a desire to "add to the rich cultural fabric of the city of Houston." The actions last Saturday of festival founder/CEO Hunter Todd would appear to show that every vision has its limits.

According to a widely distributed blog entry by writer Amanda Rudd, which quoted a Facebook post by the author's brother, Todd insisted on searching the bag of a Muslim student (and only her bag) when a fire alarm went off at one of the "master classes" he was introducing at the Westchase Marriott. When asked why he was searching the student's bag, Todd responded, "[B]ecause she is a Muslim and a suspicious character, now sit down."

Mike Rudd, the student who confronted Todd writes in his Facebook post:

Before the morning seminar at WorldFest this morning, everyone was gathered in the seminar room for the lectures start when the hotel's fire alarm went off. The founder and director of WorldFest, Hunter Todd, told everyone to stay in the room before he went to a Muslim UH student and classmate of mine, and demanded to search her bag. She tried to show him her pass to prove she was supposed to be there, but he demanded to search every single pocket of her bag anyway. I'd like to add he did so with a great deal of rudeness and attitude. She complied and showed him the her bag, after this he walked off and didn't ask to search any of the dozens of other bags in the room.

Another student at the seminar, who prefers to remain anonymous, pointed out the student in question was wearing a hijab and niqab, and added:

He demanded to search her bag, even after she had shown him her VIP Gold Pass to the festival. This young woman was also a University of Houston student, and she complied with Todd's request. She started with the back pocket, then he rudely and condescendingly said "There's another zipper." She showed him the contents of her entire backpack while I watched, stunned. Afterwards, he walked back to the front of the room without questioning or addressing anyone else in the crowded seminar.

Rudd, apparently alone among those in attendance, objected to Todd's behavior. Todd's response (according to the other student):

"You're the kind of person I hate the most - an obnoxious little bastard. Now sit down or I'll have you thrown out." Rudd answered, "All right, that's fine," and pulled out his phone to call our professor for advice. Todd freaked out, lunged at Rudd, grabbed him with both hands and tried to take his phone.

Rudd states at this point he left the room to avoid further escalation. His next step was to call WorldFest and lodge an official complaint about Todd's behavior. The phone was answered by a woman named Kathleen, but the conversation quickly went south. Again, according to Rudd:

I told her I was calling to file a complaint about a racial incident involving their founder and director and asked her what her position was at WorldFest. Ignoring this, she asked my name. I told her I would not give my name until she told me what position she held. More rudely she said "you called us now tell me your name". I told her that in this situation I would not give her my name or any info when I did not know who I was talking with. This is when she yells loudly in the the phone "TELL ME YOUR NAME RIGHT NOW!"

Rudd says he hung up and started contacting members of the press about the incident. "Kathleen" may be Kathleen Haney-Todd, WorldFest's program director and wife of Hunter Todd.

As of this writing, Todd has not responded to emails asking for a comment. WorldFest's Twitter account (@worldfest) has been silent since 10:21 AM Saturday. Curious, considering Sunday was the last day of the festival, marked by the annual Consular Regatta at the Houston Yacht Club.

As a member of the Houston film community, I'm not sure which depresses me more: that the man in charge of an allegedly "international" film festival is capable of an act of such obvious xenophobia and religious profiling, or that out of a class of over 50 people, only one person stood up to challenge him.

Update: When we first heard back from Hunter Todd, he complained that we hadn't given WorldFest sufficient coverage this year and questioned why we would highlight something like this. He also said he would get back to us with a statement later in the day. This is his latest statement to us:


Sir:

We are running a film festival, not constantly checking Email and FaceBook... we have a very small staff and are totally involved in producing a fine film festival... what are you attempting to do, destroy me and/or the film festival?

This entire episode is insane... After a false evacuation alarm... and the appearance of a single individual Hijab (eye slit only) clad individual without any friends, sitting up front in the room... I was only concerned for the safety of our many guests.. she was carrying a large dark backpack that was heavy and fully loaded... upon a brief inspection, it turned out to be 3-4 water bottles... I was extremely polite and thanked her after the 60-second interchange... there was nothing else to it. This entire issue has been created by the Rudd individual.

Mr. Rudd either has some perverse agenda or is highly misguided. He refused to talk with me later outside the seminar room... he seemed to want to have it out - right there and right then. He refused two request to step aside, rudely confronting me with angry accusations and outburst. I was only trying to start the delayed seminar.

I was referring to your lack of interest in the film festival, until something unpleasant comes along. I will long remember how you have treated me and the festival. Mr. Rudd is being quite disingenuous. He has never mentioned the complete circumstances.

Sincerely,

JHT



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35 comments
ryan762
ryan762

If only he'd been in Boston to search the backpacks of all the women wearing hijabs up there.... well, the bombing still would have happened since it was carried out by two guys wearing sweatsuits and ballcaps.

seriouslyreally
seriouslyreally

I just think it's funny he would consider his event worthy of an attack. Honestly, what hubris! His fest is a joke in the international film festival world and no one, no. one. in the film world either knows about it or cares about it.  

ducttaperoses
ducttaperoses

Sigh.  "Attender", not "attendee".  An "-ee" is the entity to whom something is done.  In this case, that would be the iFest, which doesn't even make sense.  The people attending iFest are attenders.  Nobody who writes professionally should get this wrong.

She would, however, have been a "searchee", if the word exists.

HoustonMedia
HoustonMedia

Hunter Todd still has not delineated any reasonable explanation for searching this young lady. Being "alone" in a crowd, wearing a niqab and having a "heavy backpack" are not reasonable justifications for searching anyone, much less with the attitude Mr. Todd allegedly had and has shown to the readers in his response.

I have a lot of questions regarding this incident. Did they have security? If so, why would Mr. Todd be conducting searching himself? Since when does the false activation of a fire alarm warrant searches by private citizens?

Furthermore, the second student's description of Mr. Todd's reaction to Mr. Rudd using his cell phone to call a professor constitutes assault, if the allegations are correct.

As a member of the media myself, I'm appalled at the lack of interest in this story. Although I like the blogs of Houston Press, this is a story that deserves front page attention. I'm wondering why no other major news outlets in Houston have picked it up.

Brittany Holland
Brittany Holland

Yeah, not sure I understand his defense. First he corroborates, then says the issue was "invented." According to him, it's okay if you're prejudiced as long as you're polite about it.

Jennifer Lowe
Jennifer Lowe

Aaand the gentleman's response was not a surprise, but awful nonetheless. He has done so badly by his community. What a disappointment.

Dawlat Yassin
Dawlat Yassin

I am not surprised at the incident, I see hatred in the eyes of many while driving or doing my shopping. I do not understand the girl's silence and how she let him search her purse when he is not searching other people. she must be a young international student or she would not let this pass. Amanda's brother is really brave, but I wish there were more brave people.

Jennifer Lowe
Jennifer Lowe

The fact that they keep deleting posts off their FB wall and have made no response really is not helping their public relations any...and also won't make the story go away. Why doesn't the director speak up, if he's innocent?

Addyfisher
Addyfisher

As to Hunter Todd's response:

Sir, no one is out to get either you or your festival - in fact, I'm sure all of us would love to go out of our way to both enjoy and promote your festival here in Houston, as we need strong, multi-cultural and international influences here.  However, it is exactly the kind of paranoia you seem to be displaying here in your response which likely led to this incident in the first place.  I would simply ask you to examine your own conduct.  A woman sitting in your seminar, perhaps alone and wearing a hijab, does not make a possible terrorist - however "fully loaded" her backpack might be. 

That aside, whatever happened here, the truly graceful and responsible thing to do as leader in this community would have been to apologize for any offense you may have inadvertently caused - both to the student in question who was guilty of nothing but carrying too many water bottles - and to Mike Rudd, who simple objected to you singling her out.  Moreover, if you did, according to witnesses, say what you did to Mike Rudd, he also deserves an apology, instead of further accusations. 

It instead appears that the person given to outbursts is yourself.  Please reconsider your response both for the sake of the festival, and for the rest of the individuals involved.

Loona_c
Loona_c

No surprise to anyone who has ever worked for him.  And there have been MANY in and out of those offices thru the years.  NOW do a story on how the entered movies are judged.  It used to be by Todd, his wife and then adolescent daughter.  At least that was the story from the employees.


Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

I asked on their Facebook for a response to the article. They deleted the comment and banned me. It appears that they intend to stick their head in the sand and hope everyone goes away.

Brittany Holland
Brittany Holland

Frankly, I think the most depressing thing is that only one person spoke up about it. I feel like it's what any human being should have done. Way to go, Mike Rudd.

Dylan Osborne
Dylan Osborne

That type of behavior has no place in modern America.

Nicholas Cox
Nicholas Cox

I asked on FB for a comment and I was unfriended.

Katie Ertel
Katie Ertel

I'm shocked and appalled that there has been no mention of this incident via any major Houston news outlets. At the very least, I would like to hear Hunter Todd's side of the story but everyone is silent. Houston is trying to carve out a reputation of progress. If these allegations are true, it means one huge step back for our city.

mjsicinski
mjsicinski

For the record, I contacted Kathleen Haney of WorldFest for a response two days ago, and have still heard nothing. If they have a side to the story, they aren't delivering it...yet (?)

MadMac
MadMac topcommenter

An absolutely perfect demonstration of Texas racial attitudes and cultural progress, as in abysmal and none.

kmm11281
kmm11281

@ducttaperoses You just made a post dissing the writer for a grammatical error that, let's face it, nobody cares about. And in doing so, you get the wrong festival. iFest is the International Festival, which is going on downtown. The incident occurred at WorldFest, an international FILM festival that goes on mainly at the AMC Studio 30. And trust me. As a fellow professional writer with experience in the journalism community, I can safely say that getting your facts wrong is a much bigger cardinal sin than any grammatical error you could possibly commit.

MadMac
MadMac topcommenter

"I will long remember the way you treated me and the festival..."

Really? I would've bet the next line would be, "And by Odin's beard I'll have my revenge against you, this Rudd chracters, and your little dog, too!"

BTW, your response is first class, AF.

n0e11e37
n0e11e37

@MadMac like most of the douchebags that make news in houston for being douchebags, hunter todd is not from here. the worldfest website is extremely broken and contains no info, so here's his linkedin. notice all those schools in VA/new england/NOT TEXAS.

http://www.linkedin.com/pub/hunter-todd/1a/a56/611

Sealock713
Sealock713

@MadMac Any remark generalizing someone's behavior simply by where they're from, the color of their skin, religious affiliation, etc is bigoted. Doesn't matter whether they're Muslim or Texan. Plenty of us Texans condemn Todd's behavior and we don't fit your description. Your remark is basically just as prejudiced.

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

@MadMac I don't know if it is specific to Texas. Muslims are getting attacked on the streets of Boston. Houston in general is very multi-cultural.

MadMac
MadMac topcommenter

Would you please tell that to my dream agent? I try but my crayon keeps breaking.

MadMac
MadMac topcommenter

Thank you. I'm through trying to make a point about attitudes and atmosphere. No problems in Texas. Everything's great here. No more kool aid for me, thanks. I'm driving.

MadMac
MadMac topcommenter

Plenty? Four or five is plenty? I don't see much change here since Vidor, Byron Gillium, Ida Lee Delaney, and Joe Torres. Oh, my remarks--on Texas by a native--are social criticism. Look up the term some time.

MadMac
MadMac topcommenter

Houston is generally very multi-cultured. I know this when I hear an urbane Houstonian refer to an area of town by the predominent ethnic group. However, I did not claimed ignorance and fear were specific to Texas. My remark is based on the nature of the "fest" in which this occured and my belief that this state has grown in population but not maturity or or character. 

MadMac
MadMac topcommenter

My comment's based on the story and near daily examples  like this story. Your comment is based on your belly-button lint and what else?

MadMac
MadMac topcommenter

And, I've seen you other articles too, Skippy. Trolls be trolling. If it makes you feel better, I don't know, don't care where he's from. Factuate on.   

n0e11e37
n0e11e37

@MadMac no, you're a troll and i really shouldn't be feeding you. i've seen you on other articles. you're also factually incorrect because this guy isn't from houston.

MadMac
MadMac topcommenter

Ought to make for a fun K3 rally.

Grand High Exalted Lizard: "What do you hate?"

Me: "The prevailiing ignorance and fear of my native state."

GHEL: "Huh?"

Me: "Also, I'm not wearing the white sheet, it makes me look fat--er."

Sealock713
Sealock713

@MadMac If you don't see change, then open your eyes. A lot has changed. A lot still needs to change, Call it what you like. By definition you're remark is still bigoted.

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