The Whistler Film Festival (WFF) had a great 15th anniversary — and steps towards its longed-for film institute are moving forward.
This is the message from WFF executive director Shauna Hardy Mishaw, as she presented an economic impact assessment from the 2015 festival to the Committee of the Whole meeting of the Resort Municipality of Whistler on Tuesday, May 3.
"We had a really great year; it was a very exciting year for us," Hardy Mishaw told council.
The economic impact assessment was the first since 2011, created by the Canadian Sport Tourism Alliance for the film festival.
In 2015, there were 7,470 film-screening attendees and 3,233 special event attendees from the general public. On average, a typical WFF attendee saw 4.2 screenings and 1.4 special events.
There were 13,233 attendees, with 855 were industry delegates coming to Whistler for business events or to show films. Eighty-nine films were shown — 69 of those Canadian films. Sixty-seven per cent were premieres.
In terms of visitors, 76 per cent of attendees come from outside Whistler; international attendees are growing and make up 16 per cent of participants, and all stay an average of three nights during the festival.
"They're all very happy with the film festival for the most part," said Hardy Mishaw.
"Our net promoter score (determined in a survey by Tourism Whistler) increased by five points this year, to 65... So good results overall."
Hardy Mishaw said what was really fascinating is that another study determined that WFF has a long reach — with 86 per cent of British Columbians aware of the WFF and 34 per cent wanting to attend.
And 50 per cent of Canadians have heard of the WFF, with 17 per cent interested in attending.
"Our audience is way bigger than our festival grounds... A lot of people know us, and a lot of people want to come," Hardy Mishaw said.
"We have strong brand presence and we're very excited about those numbers."
In 2015, the film festival created a $5.2-million economic impact for B.C., with $2.9 million of this spent in Whistler. Overall tax revenues were $1.1 million, including $103,000 in tax revenues for Whistler.
The assessment also covered the financial impact of WFF from 2001 to 2015.
In total for the 10 years, 71,352 people have attended the festival, 1,017 films have been shown and the economic impact is estimated to have been $50 million, with a 30-per-cent increase in resort occupancy in that period.
Hardy Mishaw said they are currently exploring their long-held dream of establishing an associated institute to develop and promote film creation as part of the WFF.
The talent and development side of the festival is an important part, with eight programs involving 48 Canadian artists offered last year, including programs to support screenwriters, directors, producers, indigenous filmmakers and others.
WFF hopes to bring the number of programs offered up to 12, covering filmmakers from script to screen.
"The hope is to incorporate a Sundance model (after the Sundance Institute in Utah). It's a program proposition, not a bricks-and-mortar proposition. The idea is that there would be multi-phase programs that would provide connections, acceleration and mentorship."
The festival has brought in Bill Thumm, the former director of the Capilano Film Centre, to explore the potential for creating the WFF institute, which would formalize the industry program.
"(Thumm) is to update and implement a strategic plan that we first developed in 2008... to launch an institute," said Hardy Mishaw.
"There is a huge need for this in British Columbia in particular. Yes, we're the third largest production centre (in North America), but there is a real gap. We need to help support creative talent... to make sure (filmmakers) don't bleed south to L.A. or east to Toronto."
Hardy Mishaw said she hopes to make a major announcement at the next film festival, which takes place from Nov. 30 to Dec. 4.
For more information on WFF visit www.whistlerfilmfestival.com.
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