The Wisconsin Film Festival overcame its biggest obstacle of years past when the first day of ticket sales went off without a hitch. There were minor glitches with the online ticketing system last year, with more significant problems at the box office two years back. No such issues on Saturday, though. "We were prepared for a huge rush today, which we got," explains festival director Meg Hamel, "and had astonishingly few problems."
As has been the case over the last few years, festival attendees have two options for tickets; online, and at the longtime box office in the UW Memorial Union. This latter location used to be the scene of massive lines on the opening day of ticket sales, hundreds strong and hours long, a gathering of cinephiles that was as much of the festival experience as the actual screenings themselves.
That's a relic of the past now, though, for the most part.
Longtime festival associate Erik Gunneson was present at the box office throughout the day on Saturday, not to mention most of Friday in preparation. "Everything went pretty well yesterday," he says. "At noon, it was ready to go." He estimates that at its height, the line numbered some 100 persons, with no line at all the case through most of the afternoon.
"I have been involved with running the festival box office for years," notes Gunneson, "and this year saw the least number of people actually come to it."
Online was a different matter, though. Gunneson observed the online sales progress rapidly throughout the afternoon. "People really trust the online system now," he says, "which is running very well."
There were 9,690 tickets sold by the time the Memorial Union box office closed on Saturday. This is out of around 68,000 total tickets available, up from some 58,000 last year. The vast majority of these were sold online. "This is the outcome we hoped would happen with web sales," notes Hamel.
Ticket sales as a whole were up this year, due in part to higher limits for purchasers. A total of 40 can now be purchased online (as opposed to 16 in past years), along with eight total per film (versus four previously). Since so many more films are being screened in larger venues in this tenth year of the festival -- with 11 in the cavernous Wisconsin Union Theater, for example -- the number of first day sell-outs was minimal.
No screenings were completely sold out when the box office closed, though the online sales system flagged a couple due to holdovers from prospective purchasers not completing their transactions. Shortly thereafter, though, The Meaning of Tea was sold-out, and less than two dozen remained for the locally-made Madison, with those dwindling quickly. Other films in smaller venues with dwindling numbers of tickets available include Alaska Far Away, Naked on the Inside, Bing'ai, The Linguists, and other documentaries. Ticket sales for the early Jacques Cousteau work World Without Sun remain on hold, meanwhile, as the festival secures the final screening rights from the French icon's estate.
Persons hoping to attend a film that is sold out in advance are by no means out of luck, though. The festival has a rush tickets system in place, in which seats that are unfilled by 15 minutes prior to the screening are made available for purchase at the venue itself. Oftentimes ticket holders do not attend the screening, or complimentary seats are not used. As festival policy is to screen all programming at capacity, hopeful viewers need only arrive early and enter the rush ticket line, from which they'll usually be able to get admission to the film.
"I just love this day, it is so great," declares Hamel. "After spending so many months carefully choosing films, it's exciting to see both festival veterans and new people here buying tickets. Everyone has their own version of the festival, they shape their own weekend, and its fun to see how they do it."
The next main task for festival organizers is confirming the filmmakers who will be attending screenings over the four day event -- running from Thursday, April 3 through Sunday, April 6 -- now that the ticket sales have been kicked off without the difficulties of past years.
"I couldn't be any happier," concludes Hamel. "It should be easy for people to see the movies."