"We had a marvelous opening weekend at the box office," says Wisconsin Film Festival director Meg Hamel. In the first three hours of ticket sales, starting at noon last Saturday, some 11,000 tickets were sold online and at the Memorial Union box office to eager film-goers.
As of mid-Wednesday afternoon, 17,555 tickets had been sold. That's nearly one-third of the total 58,000 available for the entire festival, including numerous screenings in the main room of the Orpheum that holds nearly 1,500 people.
"It's wonderful that so many people are already making their plans for the festival," says Hamel.
"We currently only have four films that are sold out," she continues, "and those are ones at smaller venues that went on sale Saturday and Sunday." These offerings are mainly those from high-profile filmmakers, include the highly-anticipated Douglas Coupland-penned Everything's Gone Green, both screenings of Lars Von Trier's latest (The Boss of it All), the Saturday screening of Gypsy Caravan, both screenings of the canonical Killer of Sheep and the maize-mania doc King Corn, and the escape from the Spanish Civil War found in The Spirit of the Beehive. (Of course, rush tickets may available at the door of many of these titles.)
Even films screened in the largest venues are building up a large audience. About 800 tickets have already been sold for Chalk, the festival's opening night film to be screened in the Wisconsin Union Theatre.
Hamel emphasizes that many tickets remain available, though. "It's not like there's been a constant drain of tickets where there are ten shows a day selling out," she notes. "I think that the combination of theaters and diversity of the program means that there's a broad range of films for many people."
The online sales operations are running smoothly now too, after a few hiccups on Saturday afternoon. Even though that's where the bulk of sales are occurring, there was still a fair-sized gathering at the festival box office that day. The box office continues to receive a steady stream of traffic.
"People have taken the time to tell me how much they miss standing in line," Hamel says. "There are still folks who enjoy that experience."
She's been spending most of this week making sure the box office is still running smoothly. Next on her list, aside from responding to a growing pile of voice-mail messages, is to firm up plans for visiting filmmakers appearing at the festival. Hamel says more information about these appearances will be released in coming weeks as the event approaches.
Getting festival volunteers organized is also moving along, with over 200 people turning out for the first orientation meeting nearly two weeks ago. "Being a part of the festival in that capacity is really special," Hamel says, "the act of getting involved and helping is really satisfying for a lot of people."
Most importantly, she notes, are those former festival attendees now helping out behind the scenes. "I asked the people at the first meeting who had previously been to the festival to raise their hands," she says. "There were many, and enthusiastic."