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Friday, October 29, 2010
NY Surf Film Festival co-founder sues

By Jeff Schad
ESPN Action Sports

The New York Surf Film Festival just wrapped on it's third year in Tribeca.

New York Surf Film Festival co-founder Morgan Berk has filed a lawsuit against the other three founding parties, seeking damages for trademark infringement, defamation and breach of contract.

In three years, the New York Surf Film Festival has established itself with the action sports and indie film communities as a popular cultural event, drawing a diverse audience of surfers, artists, film buffs, socialites and hipsters. The festival has premiered several newsworthy surf films, such as "Modern Collective," "The Drifter" and "Searching for Michael Peterson." The surfing industry lauded the event for bringing attention to surfing cinema in a city known for many things, but not necessarily surfing.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleges that Tyler Breuer, Adam Cannizaro and Michael Machemer illegally disrupted the festival by failing to provide responsible help, and taking actions that were damaging to the festival.

The New York Surf Film Festival was conceptualized by Berk and Breuer while surfing together in the Summer of 2007. Their initial vision of screening surf movies in theaters slowly sprouted into a full-scale festival in the mold of successful international film festivals. Berk researched film festivals for the next several months, officially teaming up with Breuer, Cannizaro and Machemer in December of that year to help promote and manage the festival.

Berk claims that she was the first to use the festival's trademark name in 2007, the year prior to the first festival. According to the suit, Berk was solely responsible for researching the viability of having an international-scale film festival, and by Aug. 2007 had begun using New York Surf Film Festival as a trade name. She then acquired the festival's website URL and registered the name with a marketing service in Nov. 2007.

The suit outlines the actions that led to the alleged damage that was done by Breuer, Cannizaro and Machemer in the ensuing three years, stating that Berk was required to perform the bulk of the duties of the festival that were initially assigned to the others. Cannizaro is on record as stating, "We'll see you in September," in response to Berks requests for planning and development help.

Prior to this year's festival, the conflict escalated to Breuer, Cannizaro and Machemer reportedly taking over control of the festival website, bank account and mailbox while telling festival sponsors and contacts that Berk was no longer associated. The festival went on as planned while Berk attempted to perform damage control with event sponsors and VIP's. None of the defendants wished to comment on the circumstances of the case citing pending legal proceedings.