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Whistler Film Festival risks losing momentum if Rainbow renovation postponed

Society needs to raise $600,000 to meet goal of being biggest film festival in the world

The pre-construction process has begun on the future home of the Whistler Film Festival, the Rainbow Theatre. The architect is on board and everything is ready to go - except the funding.

This needs to be secured by April so construction can begin May 1 and be completed in time for the 2011 festival in November.

"We're at the tipping point. The theatre is an absolute critical success factor for us. It needs to happen now. Absolutely," said Shauna Hardy Mishaw, co-founder and executive director of the Whistler Film Festival.

As previously reported, the renovation will cost $2.5 million. The Whistler Film Festival needs another $2.5 million for international impact, which includes enhanced programming, professional development, staffing and ticketing.

The RMOW has committed $500,000 of Resort Municipality Initiative money to the project over two years - as long as the province approves the RMI funding.

Jan Jansen, general manager of resort planning for the Resort Municipality of Whistler, has said that if fundraising by the Whistler Film Festival Society comes up short of $2.5 million the scope of the renovation project can be reviewed and scaled back to suit the available funds.

Hardy Mishaw conceded they could wait another year to renovate the theatre but that would kill the momentum the WFF has been sailing on for 10 years.

The WFFS has applied for a $1.1 million through Canadian Heritage's Canadian Cultural Spaces fund. They should know by April if their application has been successful.

If so, it would still leave the WFFS needing to raise $600,000 before construction can begin. If not, the WFFS will have $1.7 million gap to fill.

Hardy Mishaw said the WFFS is "$1 million into this project" so far.

"Basically this has to happen or we're going to get outpaced. We want to keep the momentum going," she said.

The absence of a suitable theatre has a direct impact on the festival's programming. It all boils down to access to content. The proposed renovation to the Rainbow Theatre will allow Whistler to adapt to the new film industry landscape.

Besides being the "Ferrari of entertainment experiences" with state of the art sound and screen technology, a renovated theatre will have a state of the art Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI) compliant projector that will allow WFF to download films from a server set up specifically for screenings prior to release. It allows studios and filmmakers greater control over how their films are screened.

"We would have had a totally different lineup this year if we had had that," Hardy Mishaw said. "It allows access to a whole other level of content that we otherwise can't have."

Outside of the festival, the theatre will host year-round programming with nighttime and matinee screenings of independent world films and other options not currently screened at Village 8 Cinemas. It will also be available for rent during the days and select evenings.

The WFFS also plans to roll out film workshops in the summer, as well as professional development programs for filmmakers. Hardy Mishaw said the possibilities can extend beyond just film - the theatre could be used for live theatre, comedy and music performance.

But the plan is to become the biggest film festival in the world, according to Hardy Mishaw, and you can't be the biggest festival in the world without celebrities. And you can't have celebrities without the proper facilities.

"You can't get James Cameron to come to Whistler if you don't have a proper theatre. If you can't show 3-D then James Cameron isn't coming to Whistler," she said.

Tourism Whistler, which acts as a partner with the WFF, does not have a budget to help fund the renovations, according to, president and CEO Barrett Fisher.

Tourism Whistler is not a "funding organization for capital infrastructure when it comes to third party producers."

"If the film festival did not have a proposal put forward, we would not have the budget to invest in it because we would never spend our members' marketing and sales funds on a capital investment that was not self-sufficient based on its own revenue," Fisher said.

Tourism Whistler offers financial support in other ways by waiving fees, cost structures and portions of rent that might normally be charged. The WFFS has signed a 20-year lease with Tourism Whistler, who manages and operates the building. Tourism Whistler has a 100-year lease with the building's owner, the RMOW.

The theatre is currently used about 20 days per year and generates about $3,000. With the planned upgrades and increased programming, Hardy Mishaw estimates that revenue will grow to $90,000.