If you haven't had the funds or the wherewithal to attend the overwhelming Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in past years, you're in luck. Now in its second year, the Windsor International Film Festival (WIFF) has carved out a niche for itself as a purveyor of challenging, Canadian-made features both new and old; it's also become a showcase for some American indies and international flicks that Detroit audiences don't often see. The festival has even picked up a few highly acclaimed features that quickly zipped through the Main and the Detroit Film Theatre, so if you missed them the first time around, now's your chance.
Though the fest is operating on both sides of the Detroit River, most films will be showing at three different venues in Windsor. But two Quebecois greats are screening at the venerable DFT: the 1967 classic Entre la Mer et L'eau Douce, and the film C.R.A.Z.Y., a breakout hit at the 2005 TIFF (for reviews of these two films, see this week's Cinema section).
In fact, of the 27 films that will be shown from Thursday, Nov. 9, through Monday, Nov. 12, many will be familiar to TIFF-goers. The WIFF's opening-night gala feature, Snow Cake, garnered considerable attention in Toronto this year for Sigourney Weaver's turn as an autistic woman. Another Toronto discovery, the Kafka-esque The Lives of Others, is one of the most talked-about German films since Run Lola Run, a creepy tale of surveillance set in East Germany in the 1980s.
The Windsor committee has chosen the cream of the recent crop of first-time filmmakers, putting emerging international talents on display. Andrea Arnold's arresting feature Red Road is another tale of a mysterious voyeur, this time set in the projects of Scotland. Marcelo Gomes' modest road movie Cinema, Aspirin and Vultures has been making the festival rounds for some time, but the earthy buddy picture deserves to reach a wider audience.
These discoveries show alongside the recent superlative indie flicks Science of Sleep, Shortbus and Half Nelson, a welcome treat for Detroiters who may have missed them during their brief runs in local theaters.
And this year, the stranger-than-fiction portion of the festival is even more robust. Canadian documentarian Allan King's works were the subject of a TIFF retrospective; WIFF is showing his latest effort, EMPz 4 Life, a movie about "at risk" 13-year-olds from the overlooked low-income neighborhoods of Toronto. His Canuck colleague Ron Mann who made the popular pot doc Grass in 1999 is represented by Tales of the Rat Fink, a look at Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, a hot-rodder turned trailblazing graphic artist. Manufactured Landscapes, Jennifer Baichwal's haunting film about industrial photographer Edward Burtynsky, joins a few provocative American nonfiction films on the docket, which include Fuck, a brief history of the king of all four-letter words; the punk rock doc American Hardcore; and The U.S. vs. John Lennon.
The documentary coup of the WIFF, however, might be the Canadian-made Anger Me, a profile of the seminal, reclusive queer filmmaker Kenneth Anger. Anger's impressionistic, sexual short films influenced everyone from Martin Scorsese to David Lynch, and changed the vocabulary of film editing as we know it; indeed, the film's promotional materials echo the oft-repeated catchphrase that Anger is the "Godfather of MTV" as we know it.
The Windsor fest's numerous similarities to TIFF aren't surprising, given that its programmer, Otto Buj, works directly with the Toronto fest.
"Toronto is very instrumental in the logistics of organizing this," says Buj, who works on a volunteer basis, squeezing in time between his full-time day gig at the Art Gallery of Windsor. "We couldn't do it without them."
Furthermore, Windsor has something the big shots in Toronto don't immediate access to the United States, via Detroit.
"Windsor is like a peninsula into the American market for Canadian films," Buj says. "That makes it very lucrative."
The Windsor International Film Festival runs Thursday-Monday, Nov. 9-12, at various locations. For a complete schedule, visit windsorfilmfestival.ca.Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.