Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Festival's benign neglect should end

The causal indifference the City of Windsor shows the Windsor International Film Festival (WIFF), now in its 11th year, might be explained by many things. First, arts has never been big on the radar screen in the City of Roses. If anything, sports has long been the centre of attention. This city, for instance, like all of Canada, is hockey mad. But not simply hockey. Baseball tourneys and high school meets, bring serious money into Windsor, as witnessed by the solidly booked hotels for major sport gatherings. Despite the WIFF’s increasing success (17,000 tickets sold this month over six says, 2,000 higher than last year’s 10th anniversary nine-day run) it can’t boast that. So there’s been an inbred bias for sports and against the arts. But the world is changing and it’s time for city leaders to take note. Arts itself is becoming big business everywhere. Film festivals are springing up in the smallest of cities across North America. Summer time festivals which accent creative artwork and crafts keep growing. The visual arts itself has found a new audience and developed a cool cachet; just check out Grand Rapids’ stellar Art Prize every fall. And the so-called Creative Class, even in Windsor, is a demographic city planners seek to lure. Backers of WIFF say it transforms the downtown and gives shots in the arm to businesses like restaurants and cafes between screenings. But that takes place for only one week a year. WIFF of course would like to expand that and up until several months ago was offering monthly film screenings. It’s up to the city to recognize it has a growing new industry, non-profit or not, given its business spinoffs and potential for commercial and non-commercial growth like film studies and production workshop and studios. City hall could do several things to facilitate this without taking a big whack to taxpayers. It could provide free or discounted rental of the Capitol Theatre to the festival, and eliminate its $1 surcharge on tickets. Supporting WIFF would also have other benefits. It would meld with the city’s efforts to bring post-secondary education downtown as well as lure more Millennials to the core. However, WIFF might also seek alternatives. It could scout for better or cheaper facilities. The demise of the Palace Cinemas has relegated WIFF to a largely uncomfortable Capitol Theatre. The Jewish Film Festival uses much better facilities at Devonshire Cineplex, where perhaps some of WIFF’s films could be shown. But bottom line is WIFF has been the object of benign neglect for too long. Times, and demographics, are changing, and it’s time the city wakes up.

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