ITVFest sparks commerce, hope

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MANCHESTER — After a successful first year in Manchester, the Independent Television and Film Festival (ITVFest) is here to stay, according to festival director Phil Gilpin Jr.

Gilpin said that community support played a large role in the success of the festival, which attracted over 1,000 industry insiders to the northshire between Oct. 11 and Oct. 15.

"From our perspective it was so beyond anything that we could have imagined, because this is the first time in the 12 years of the festival that we've had a full community behind it," said Gilpin, who moved the festival to Manchester from Dover Vermont last year. "It's a very exhilarating, exciting, and unique time for us, where we feel like we can accomplish anything because we have the community support."

Though the 2017 ITVFest has drawn to a close, Gilpin says to expect a growing presence in the months to come.

"We're open year round, and we have submissions for 2018 starting immediately," said Gilpin, noting that ITVFest will run the Wednesday through Sunday following Columbus Day again next year. "This is permanent here; we're as much a Manchester business as Seasons or the bookstore. We're local."

Organizing the next festival is not all that Gilpin is up to however, as a number of educational initiatives — some in conjunction with the nascent Vermont Production Council — are in the works.

"There's been a lot of chatter on writing retreats in the winter and spring, and we're hoping to grow a larger year-round educational component to this and tie in the local schools like Burr and Burton," said Gilpin. "We expect that to kick in early next year."

According to downtown business owners, the festival brought a refreshing energy to Manchester that simultaneously boosted commerce.

"There was an energy to the town that was refreshing and vibrant, and business was definitely up," said Northshire Bookstore owner Chris Morrow. "More importantly, it exposed a whole new group of people to how awesome Manchester, and the region, is. Everyone I talked to was impressed with the area and the hospitality. I'd say it was a big win for everyone."

"We did notice an increase in foot traffic in Manchester; the Festival created a buzz in town and the sidewalks were crowded as folks were heading from one event to the next," said Eileen Fisher store leader Lana Prouty. "It was nice to see such young, diverse energy here in town."

That youthful energy gives the town a hint at another goal — attracting more young individuals and families to live and work in Manchester.

"It was nice to see a younger demographic out and about town," said Lana Hauben of the Manchester Designer Outlets. "I would think that some businesses may have benefited from this event."

Joy Proft, owner of JOY All Things Underthings, encountered that energy first hand at her "Bras and Bagels" events, held every morning of ITVFest.

"I feel like there's a total uptick in energy because it's beautiful, there's people, it's vibrant — this is really what Manchester is," said Proft. "I know the hotels are booked, and we have definitely seen a sales lift."

Another epicenter of energy throughout ITVFest was Seasons restaurant, which became the de-facto VIP Lounge for festival attendees looking to dance the night away.

"The festival itself was just phenomenal in terms of turnout, and the people were so gracious," said Paul Bogossian of Seasons. "For the economy, it helps everyone. I would imagine it brought almost twice as much business into town."

"The festival definitely had a positive impact on the local economy, and brought business to so many inns, restaurants, and retailers," Prouty said. "We're looking forward to seeing the festival grow here. Just as the Sundance Film Festival started small in Park City Utah, ITVFest has the potential to put our small town onto the map."

That exposure is nothing to scoff at, with increasing tourism stated as a goal by both the town government and the Manchester Business Association (MBA.)

"I think it was a really great opportunity, and I encourage more events like this," Proft said . "Things that continue to highlight Manchester as a destination and show off the hospitality here, I'm on board for."

"I was transporting people all around Manchester during the festival, and I can't tell you how nice it was to see so many people enjoying our community," said Wayne Bell, vice-chair of the Manchester Selectboard. "I spoke with hundreds of festival visitors who can't wait to come back next year."

According to Gilpin, the festival is capable of attracting not just visitors — but permanent residents and second homeowners to boot.

"The biggest takeaway for our folks was that they loved the town because they really felt welcomed by the people here," said Gilpin. "I've had more than a few people tell me that they're going to try to figure out how they can live and work here."

Reach Cherise Madigan at 802-490-6471.

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