Professor Anneke Smit part of research team aiming to extend WIFF's reach

An interdisciplinary research team has received $24,600 in funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, another $3,000 from WIFF, and $2,000 in in-kind support from UWindsor’s School of the Creative Arts to find ways to improve the Windsor International Film Festival's (WIFF) year-round reach. 

UWindsor film professor Kim Nelson is partnering with Windsor Law professor Anneke Smit, SoCA professor Nick Hector, WIFF managing director Hayden Freker, and researchers from St. Francis Xavier University and the Toronto International Film Festival on the project.

“We want to assess WIFF’s current outreach program and use the results to develop short-term strategies and a long-term vision for sustaining community interest year-round,” Nelson said.

WIFF sold 42,000 tickets during its 2019 festival season. Organizers hope to extend that enthusiasm year-round through WIFF 365, a program of monthly screenings.

“The impressive success of the annual festival, and the challenge in replicating that popularity in the intervening weeks of the year, provide a fascinating research problem for our team,” said Nelson, a SoCA professor and long-time WIFF board member.

“This isn’t something that just WIFF faces. It’s a challenge for TIFF and all festivals, as well.”

The research will delve into what locals want out from WIFF. It will look at ways the festival can support the local arts, encourage expression, and foster a sense of community. It will also explore what diverse constituencies of people could be served by WIFF 365 and how to generate their interest in screenings.

The researchers had planned to do exit interviews with audience members who attended a WIFF 365 event in December and interview focus groups. Due to ongoing social distancing to curb the spread of COVID-19, that part of the research will have to be delayed, or conducted electronically, Nelson said.

Other parts of the research, including an analysis of the festival’s archives, will be easier to proceed with under current protocols.

The researchers will make recommendations to WIFF’s board of directors, and share their findings with film festivals everywhere, Nelson said. They plan to write a journal article with open access and a paper that will be available online.

“We aim to contribute to academic research on film festivals in the area of programming and audience engagement.”

Nelson said she still hopes to be able to train five students to help with the research, giving them experience in interviewing, transcribing, data analysis — and insight into running successful arts events.

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