A Brief History Of MIFF

Provided by Robert Uhrig, Councillor, Municipality of Meaford; Director, Meaford Culture Foundation

MIFF is the film festival that almost wasn’t.

In April 2007, the Meaford Hall had been open for less than a year following its restoration, and there was no screen or projector in the Hall. Showing films was part of the business plan for the Hall, but that was still in the future.

So, when Gough Lewis approached the Meaford Hall & Culture Foundation Board, comprised of Barb Clumpus, Ted Brown, Bert Chalmers, Terry Harris and Michael Anderson, in early 2007 with the idea of putting on a film festival, it seemed like a very long shot. No one on the Board fully appreciated what they were getting into, although they knew they could rely on the experience that Paul Osborn, the General Manager of the Meaford Hall at the time, brought to the project. Nonetheless, the Board did have a sense of the potential. Holding their breath, they decided to take on the financial risk of presenting MIFF in partnership with Gough as the founding Festival Director, a role he held for the first two years. Using the Gen Art Film Festival as his model, Gough developed the format that is still going strong today: Four Nights, Four Films, Four Parties.

What a summer! What a challenge!

Gough immediately set to work finding four award-winning films and arranging interviews. Michael Anderson took care of marketing and working with the Hall to put on a four-day event that was bigger than anything attempted since the Hall reopened. All of this was made possible by the help of many, many enthusiastic volunteers. One took an armful of brochures to Thornbury and stopped drivers in the street, telling them that they simply had to come to Meaford! Some worked on the parties under Ted Brown’s direction, others decorated the huge marquee tent that went up in Market Square, beside the Hall.

The screen was installed in the Hall in the middle of August, and the projector arrived a week before the Opening Gala.

To avoid confusion with the operation of the municipally operated Meaford Hall, the name of the organization eventually was changed to the Meaford Culture Foundation (MCF), but MIFF has remained the flagship cultural event throughout. There have been multiple artistic directors over the last 16 years, each bringing their own flavour to the festival. Virtual and in-house interviews with persons connected to the film being screened have been an integral part of the evening showings as they add insight into the making of the film and/or salient points of interest regarding the films.
Each year the audience is asked to grade the films and the scores are tabulated to produce a winning film which receives the MIFF Audience Choice award, the Pomme d’Or (appropriately named as we are in the heart of apple country).

Another addition has been the inclusion of local upcoming talent in the form of youth made short films that are shown prior to the evening films. These are also judged, and a winner is selected to receive a cash award.

Since its inception, the MIFF films are screened in Meaford Hall, which has amazing acoustics and comfortable seating, and great sightlines from any seat. MIFF has been the principal fundraiser for the Foundation and has significantly contributed to the over $645K that has been donated to Meaford Hall in the form of capital improvements. A partial list of those improvements includes funding for a baby grand piano, a state-of-the-art Hi-Definition digital projection system, a bar in the North Gallery, and a large contribution to the balcony refurbishment.

MIFF has also helped fund over $300K that the Foundation has contributed to arts and culture initiatives through its Community Outreach programs. MCF strives to provide ongoing support to various Community cultural projects with an emphasis on youth and is dedicated to helping youngsters of all ages accrue the real benefits associated with their exposure and involvement in arts and culture and to level the playing field for families in need.

The Covid pandemic presented a unique challenge and MCF presented MIFF via an on-line subscription in 2020 and as a drive-in version in 2021 to maintain a continuous presence. MCF was thrilled to be able to return to its standard format in 2022.

2023 sees the 17th annual MIFF running from August 31st to September 3rd with many options to participate. Choose from matinees, evening feature films alone, or paired with a delicious, locally catered dinner. Additionally, each evening ticket includes an afterparty with a free drink, popcorn, hors d’oeuvres, and an opportunity to socialize and discuss the films in the beautiful Festival Tent erected beside Meaford Hall.

From its humble beginnings, MIFF continues to be Meaford’s premier cultural event. For more information, please visit the MIFF website at: https://meafordfilmfest.ca