A WIFF 2019 Recap

The Windsor International Film Festival has seen substantial growth since its first screening 15 years ago. It is not just the number 15 being celebrated though, it is the fact that the festival has been named “Canada’s No. 1 Film Festival” on TIFF’s Film Circuit. Congratulations to WIFF on all the success.

WIFF presented 165 features and documentary films during 277 screenings; 21 of those films were local programming, which is exciting for Windsor’s film industry. The stats are impressive: there are 132 Oscar nominations among this year’s 165 films, shipping in from 29 other countries, 83 films from world leading film festivals, 46 alone from TIFF. 

The festival has grown quickly over its 15 years. It added a huge extension with the monthly WIFF365 series, allowing WIFF subscribers to experience even more film screenings throughout the year. This year, for example, the festival has expanded again by extending its run to ten days, and also by adding WIFF Alley, and WIFF Village.

#WIFF Alley

Speaking of festival growth, it was announced last week that WIFF sold over 42, 000 tickets to the 2019 festival, a record in ticket sales for the festival; and a real indicator that there is a market for cinema here in Windsor.

Making a big contribution at this year’s WIFF were local filmmakers Gemma Eva and Calum Hotchkiss, who worked together on the short film’s “Rough Love” and “The Rabbit and the Snare”. Both films screened during “WIFF Local Shorts”, and were received with a round of applause. They also worked on Boys Vs. Girls, where Gemma was an Associate Producer and Calum was the Key Grip. 

The Chrysler Theatre

“WIFF Local Shorts” was a highlight of the festival for me. Presented at the cinematic Chrysler Theatre, this evening had a touch of magic and the feel of a big premiere. There was an energy in the theatre as we watched a roll of locally produced shorts together. Enthusiasm for the movies was pulsing in the many cheers from a vibrant crowd. I wish there had been a Q&A afterwards, or other glimpse of the filmmakers.

Gemma Eva had a successful festival with the screening of “Rough Love”, this year’s Best Screenplay winner at the University of Windsor Film Festival, which Gemma has won three years in a row. She also won Best Director. Gemma Eva has been steadily writing and directing movies in Windsor for over five years: “The Last Night” (2015), “Damned for All Time” (2016), “Again” (2016), A Late Night Adventure with Holly and Zoe” (2017), “Heidi Wilson is Okay” (2018), and “Full Meta Racket” (2018). 

“Rough Love” will precede The Birder on Friday January 24, see Events calendar for details.

The local screenings did not stop with the shorts though, there were 11 feature films that were local as well. Boys vs. Girls was shot out at Kiwanis Sunshine Point Camp and another highlight of the festival for me. I attended Kiwanis camp as a child, and to see the pool, and the cabins freshly painted, was a vivid reminder of a wonderful experience of my youth and why I’m so passionate about seeing Windsor in the movies. This event featured a brief Q&A with Theodore Bezaire and Mike Stasko afterward, where they let slip they have more projects on the go, the Windsor movie-making magic continues …

The Quick and Dirty by Jordan Krug and Nicholas Shields is another film with shooting locations in Essex County. The indie drama Last Call was co-written and directed by Windsor’s Gavin Michael Booth. There is also Prey, a documentary directed by Windsor’s Matt Gallagher which was a winner at Hot Docs Documentary Festival earlier this year. Prey was also voted as this year’s LiUNA! People’s Choice Award winner at WIFF, congratulations to Matt Gallagher and the team that created the documentary about sexual abuse. 

Now that the festival is over, you may find yourself experiencing WIFF withdrawals, and yearning for next year; but remember, WIFF365 will be happening every month until WIFF2020.

What was your favourite movie from WIFF? Please leave your comments below, thank you.

Uncut Gems: Adam Sandler Shines in Netflix Drama

If you’ve ever thought that Adam Sandler couldn’t act his way out of a wet paper bag: meet Howard Ratner, an Adam Sandler character that gets into a much stickier jam than being trapped in such a bag. It is indeed Sandler’s acting that helps us love this struggling character in the Safdie brothers’ modern and gritty realist auteuresque drama. 

Directed by Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie, Uncut Gems stars Adam Sandler as Howard Ratner, a has-been successful New York gems dealer that has raked up a severe amount of gambling debt. Ratner now has a chance at a big-score when he comes into possession of a rare and precious gem that he believes to be worth a million dollars; if he can balance all of the people that are after him for his various schemes involving pawning gems for protection against debts and betting any money that comes to him on basketball. Rotten Tomatoes rates it at a 92% and says, “Uncut Gems reaffirms the Safdies as masters of anxiety -inducing cinema – and proves that Adam Sandler remains a formidable dramatic actor when given the right material.” 

There is a lot to be excited about when it comes to Uncut Gems. It appears to be having a great festival run with special presentations happening at VIFF, TIFF, and now WIFF365. Reviews for the film have been mostly good. The Independent says of Sandler, “it’s the best performance of his career. [He] toys with his audience’s empathy, disgust and pity like a cat with its next meal.” There was some Oscar buzz about the movie, particularly for Adam Sandler’s career highlighting performance, but his name was not mentioned on the Oscar nominee’s announcement this morning. Is this another example of the Academy ignoring comedic actors in dramatic roles? Post your comments below.

Oscar nomination, or not, Sandler’s characterization of Howard Ratner is full of rich strokes of genius – he speaks as fast as he is quick to be shrewd, never missing an opportunity to capitalize any way he can. His shrewdness is evident in every scene as he continues to make shady deals in pursuit of quick earning, and is ultimately the character’s tragic flaw. 

Filmed in New York City, Uncut Gems features an intense opening scene shot in South Africa and takes us into the world of precious gem trading. It is also an exciting piece of Howard’s world of mysterious gems, gambling and risk-taking. This gritty drama is meant to be seen on the big-screen, preferably as part of a film festival, where you’re not just viewing it with the public, but with eager film buffs that are communally engaged, like at WIFF365.

For WIFF, it is another Netflix film to be screened before it streams on Netflix. The Irishman had a screening run in November, and now airs on the successful streaming service. Don’t wait to see Uncut Gems online though, this movie is so good it deserves to be seen on the big screen. You can search upcoming screening events in Windsor on our new Events calendar, featured in the top of the sidebar menu.