WIFF is reeling in the years.
For its 15th anniversary, the Windsor International Film Festival is taking a nostalgic look back at its transformation from cash-strapped upstart to cultural phenomenon with the Windsor Star’s 15 for 15.
The pre-roll, shown before every film, mixes film posters with Star archive photos to chronicle the festival’s humble beginnings, explosion in popularity, and massive growth with off-shoots including WIFF 365, WIFF Alley and WIFF Village.
“It’s a great walk down memory lane to see the amazing evolution of the film festival,” said Nick Shields, co-owner of Suede Productions, the film and CGI company that created the video. “Not only a sheer growth based on the numbers. That’s impressive.
“But I think what is truly impressive when you look over the years is how many sponsors joined on, how much community support joined on, how many subtle off-shoots. It’s a non-stop positive evolution of a film festival.
“And it’s not the kind of festival that is pretentious, that is a competition and all those other things. It’s just this amazing community-based, volunteer-based festival.”
The 15th annual festival begins Friday, expanding to 10 days with 165 films screening at three venues.
While celebrating the past, organizers are also looking ahead.
During last year’s seven-day run, fans bought 28,574 tickets to 143 movies. That made WIFF the largest of the 166 volunteer-run festivals on the Toronto International Film Festival Circuit.
Organizers expect 2019 sales to dwarf last year’s record.
“We’re expecting to sell about 40,000 tickets for 165 different feature films, so I’m really, really pumped and the team is excited,” said Vincent Georgie, WIFF’s executive director and chief programmer.
“Just in terms of pre-sales and attention and tourists coming in and hotel packages, we can just sense it’s a much, much bigger festival.”
He said the addition of a three-day party at WIFF Village and the creation of WIFF Alley, where the festival and community partners installed lighting, graffiti, and signage, will also draw more people.
“People are looking for an experience,” said Georgie. “They want to know they’re at something, and we wanted to expand the WIFF footprint. So WIFF Alley, by beautifying it, and making it amazing, that makes it cool and hip and lets us do things in there. Then WIFF Village, that whole tented experience, it creates a party atmosphere that will only attract more people.”
After so much growth and community love, WIFF wanted to celebrate where it came from, said Georgie. That was the motivation for Windsor Star’s 15 for 15.
“It turned out really beautifully because it gives us a chance to take a look at fantastic photos from the past, photos of past festivals and past venues and some of our volunteers,” he said. “It’s really quite lovely. The whole team this year is quite nostalgic because we’re all thinking back to how hard we’ve all worked, and all the past years. We’re just thrilled by it.”
Shields also has a good excuse for being a little nostalgic this year. Besides being a consultant for WIFF when it started, he has a film playing at the 2019 festival. The Quick and Dirty, which he directed with Jordan Krug, runs Saturday at 8 p.m. The movie won best Short Feature at the 2019 Toronto Independent Film Festival.
Shields said the pre-roll his company created is a few minutes long, but it could have been a feature-length film.
“We narrowed it down for 15 just out of the clever convenience of it,” he said. “But there were literally over 100 things that could be celebrated. The education part. Bringing in directors. I remember the very first year, Mark Boscariol paid out of his own pocket to bring film directors down to talk to people, to introduce them to Windsor. Where we’ve come from and how much support we’ve got since then, it’s pretty amazing.”