When it began nine years ago, the people who came up with the idea of having an annual film festival in Windsor didn’t know whether an event devoted to showcasing independent and foreign films would work in a city not always considered appreciative of the arts.
“Oh God there was a lot of doubt about whether Windsor was the place for a film festival,” Peter Coady, director and a founder of the Windsor International Film Festival (WIFF), said. “And in the first year I remember it was just kind of a big idea. I don't think anyone really believed it would work.”
True, the city did have the former Windsor Film Theatre located near the University of Windsor, which, for a decade, offered a small group of film aficionados their nightly film fix, programmed by another of WIFF’s founders, Otto Buj.
“We had no idea if it would go beyond what Otto had,” Coady said.
It turns out there was little reason to worry. “Since then we’ve just grown every year so there’s no longer that doubt,” Coady said after announcing this year’s 65 film line up for the event which runs through Nov. 10 at the city’s historic downtown Capitol Theatre.
The festival keeps adding days to its schedule with expectations this year of selling 14,000 tickets.
In earlier years the fest opened on a Thursday night and ran until Sunday. This year it kicked off Tuesday, Nov. 5 and wraps Sunday night, with films starting as early as 10 a.m.
For a combined Windsor and Metro Detroit population exceeding four million people, the little festival that could also happens to have been the only real mainstream filmfest, the area’s others being experimental in nature. Cinetopia, also more mainstream and now in its second year in Ann Arbor and Detroit, is still in the early stages.
Part of WIFF’s success must go to Vincent Georgie, who came to Windsor to teach marketing at the University of Windsor. It just so happened Georgie marketed films in his former home, Montreal, so linking with WIFF was a natural.
“I was able to bring in maybe some of the audience development and the marketing pieces,” he said.
Georgie said that, four years ago, the festival was screening 25 films and selling 1,500 tickets. But to ensure stability it needed to sell more tickets and that meant expansion. “Because we do such volume there’s more word of mouth (and) films catch on,” he said.
More films also allows more artistic risks. “If we really believe in a film that we know will only sell 60 tickets we will show it,” he said. “Because we know we have another film that we believe in that is going to sell 2000 tickets.”
Georgie said the festival hasn’t compromised its indie creds, having rejected offers of multiplex fare. “It’s just not what we’re there for,” he said. Instead it tacks to internationally-acclaimed and often award-winning titles.
This year these include Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue in the Warmest Color, which took Cannes’ Palme d’Or. Others have won at Toronto, Berlin, Venice, Sundance and Tribeca. Four have been submitted for next year’s Oscars.