Alumni driving force behind Windsor International Film Festival
When the curtain opens on the Windsor International Film Festival November 1, the University of Windsor will be there.
In fact, UWindsor has been there all along, says Vincent Georgie MBA ’14, WIFF’s executive director and chief programmer. “It’s a special relationship.”
Students at the Odette School of Business earn course credit for helping to put on the annual festival. Georgie, director of UWindsor’s School of Creative Arts (SoCA), teaches the event marketing course, commonly referred to as “the WIFF course.”
Students conduct market research for the festival, work as promoters, handle logistics during the festival and do analytics to make the festival better from year to year.
“WIFF is a tremendous learning opportunity,” said Georgie.
Students in the MBA program also work at WIFF. With UWindsor’s focus on experiential learning – giving students the chance to learn through doing – the festival is a perfect fit, Georgie said.
Through the years, nearly 3,000 students have had a role in WIFF’s success. Now that they’re no longer behind the scenes organizing the event, many of those former students maintain ties to the festival, buying tickets as patrons, or working as volunteers.
Coursework is but one way in which the festival and the university are inextricably intertwined.
SoCA students in the arts management course intern with the festival, as do students in other programs. The festival hires music students to perform at events.
And this year, in a completely new endeavour, students in the Visual Arts in the Built Environment (VABE) program will turn the alley near the Capitol Theatre that runs from University Avenue to Chatham Street into a whimsical homage to the festival. There will be lights strung between the buildings and the walls will feature colourful murals that visitors can pose with.
“It’s going to be an amazing alley,” Georgie enthused.
There’s a team of 30 people who work year-round to make the festival happen. Most, including Georgie and managing director Hayden Freker BComm ’15, MBA ’18, are UWindsor alumni. Georgie said he has polled that core of volunteers and found that among them, they hold 45 UWindsor degrees from a wide range of disciplines.
During the festival itself, it takes another 200 volunteers to put on the show. That’s where UWindsor’s Alumni Association comes in.
“Many alumni volunteer with WIFF during the festival, and throughout the year as members of the board,” said Patti Lauzon, UWindsor’s acting director of alumni relations and advancement. “WIFF also regularly features films written, produced, directed or starring UWindsor graduates.”
In 2017, the Alumni Association voted to support WIFF with a $20,000 gift toward the purchase of a digital projector. Through this sponsorship, the festival was able to extend its reach throughout the year, Lauzon said.
The festival screened films weekly this summer as part of WIFF365, a new, year-round endeavour for the festival. It’s an example of how WIFF has grown in both scope and popularity.
Celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, WIFF began as a 3½-day event. Georgie said when he became involved in 2009, ticket sales were fewer than 2,000.
The festival eventually grew to one week. This year, for the first time, it will be a 10-day event. Because the festival now spans an additional weekend, ticket sales are projected to exceed 40,000, up from last year’s sales of about 30,000.
In 2018, WIFF opened a third site for screenings – the Armouries building, now home to UWindsor’s School of Creative Arts. It’s an example of the symbiotic relationship between the festival and the school. The university channels 100 per cent of the proceeds from the rent paid by WIFF into student scholarships at SoCA.
Georgie said he knew the Armouries would be a great addition to the festival, but he had no idea how warmly audiences would embrace it.
“People told us it was their favourite venue.”
In addition to when they see movies in the SoCA building, festival- goers will see WIFF’s connection to the university when they purchase their tickets.
WIFF has a new permanent box office at the corner of University Avenue and Pelissier Street. It displays the UWindsor name and logo, a sign of the partnership between the festival and the school.
“Each person attending WIFF has to visit the box office and will see our branding,” Lauzon said. “It’s an opportunity for us to tell our alumni, students, and the entire community that we support the festival and believe in giving back to Windsor-Essex.”
WIFF has been named Canada’s No. 1 film festival on the TIFF Film Circuit, and the nation’s largest volunteer-run festival. Lauzon said the University of Windsor is proud of its association with the festival.
“The community is enriched as a result of WIFF and the Alumni Association is happy to play a role in this story.”