As a headline from a Hollywood tabloid might put it, “Flix Fest Brings Boffo Box Office to Madtown Merchants.” Aside from the cultural benefits, the annual Wisconsin Film Festival has also proven to be a big economic driver.
The Greater Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau calculates that, in 2013 alone, 27,700 movie buffs spent a total of $1.17 million here during the festival. (Attendance in 2014 was 28,300.)
That total spending figure includes admission sales. Each of the last two years, attendees have spent about $150,000 on tickets. (The actual cost of the festival is approximately twice that. The difference is made up by donations, grants, gifts and sponsorships.) Festival fans spend much more than that on parking, meals and hotel stays.
“We know that we are a very regional draw in terms of arts and cultural offerings,” says Judy Frankel, the bureau’s director of public relations and communications. “Over the lifetime of the festival we’re certainly seeing it grow each year, and getting bigger and stronger each year. They had their 10th anniversary a few years ago but it looks like each year is better than the last.”
Susan Schmitz, president of Downtown Madison Inc., agrees. “We continue to see an increased interest in the film festival every year,” she says. “As the downtown becomes more of an entertainment district, people are more and more attracted to such events as the film festival. And with the many amenities that Madison has to offer — such as restaurants, brew pubs, coffee shops, etc. — it makes Madison the perfect destination.”
“The festival has always been very, very good for us,” notes Tom Christ, co-owner of Nick’s restaurant, 226 State St., located across from one of the festival venues, the Overture Center for the Arts. “It’s been great for us for years.”
The Wisconsin Film Festival was established in 1999. It is the largest university-managed film festival in the nation. During this year’s eight-day event, which takes place April 9- 16, more than 150 screenings will occur at various Madison venues.
“It’s a long festival, and they really spread out the wealth in terms of their distribution in the downtown, and in and around Madison and greater Madison,” says Frankel. She believes that multiple screenings of popular films make it convenient for visitors to attend the festival.
Frankel says that her bureau’s financial impact estimate is conservative. It was computed using a standard methodology provided by Destination Management Association International, a nonprofit trade organization. Zip codes of festival attendees who purchased tickets online were collected and weighted by distance. The farther away you live, the more likely you are to stay overnight, for example.
More difficult to estimate is the festival’s worth in presenting the city as attractive to the so-called creative class, the young, sought-after, tech-savvy workers who prefer to work at firms located in or near cultural centers.
“Events like the film festival spotlight Madison as a place where creativity flourishes, a place where people come together to enjoy and experience film as an exciting medium for expression,” says Anne Katz, executive director of Madison-based Arts Wisconsin, a state advocacy nonprofit. “That quality-of-life aspect is critical to successful economic and community growth in the 21st century.”
The Wisconsin Film Festival is presented by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arts Institute in association with the Department of Communication Arts. No tuition dollars are used to support the event.
For information on the Wisconsin Film Festival, including venues and schedules, visit 2015.wifilmfest.org, or call the box office, 608-265-2787.