Film festival scrapped 

Organizers of the first Whistler International Film, Television, and New Media Festival planned for March have pulled the plug on the event, citing a lack of sponsors and construction delays on Maurice Young Millennium Place.

It is the second time the event has been postponed. The four-day festival was originally scheduled to run last November but was shifted to March 28-31, 2001 because of improved marketing opportunities in the spring. Holding the festival in March would have placed it after Utah’s Sundance Festival and the Berlin Film Festival, but ahead of Canada’s established festivals in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

The executive director of the Whistler festival project, Susan Dosot, describes the decision to cancel as "heart-wrenching."

"Towards the end of December we were beginning to realize that we might have to give it up," she explained. "We simply couldn’t get enough funding and it’s so disappointing because so many people were interested and tried so hard."

The festival was the brainchild of Dosot and another Vancouver-based businesswoman, Leagh Gabriel, who is the event’s artistic director. The founding director of the Banff Television Festival, Carrie Hunter Hemmingway was to run a TV and new media conference as part of the festival.

Dosot says even with cut-backs, there wasn’t enough financial support to see the project through.

"We scaled our original $2 million budget way back to $750,000 but still weren’t able to get the funding together," she says. "We were led to believe that government funding would be forthcoming as we are a non-profit organization, but that only occurs in the second year of operation."

Dosot personally invested $80,000 in the venture and says "a great team of people invested their time and services free to make the dream a reality." She believes the festival’s lack of history ultimately spelled its downfall.

"Like the government, many potential sponsors wanted a track record before committing themselves to it, which is impossible before you have held the first one."

Continued construction delays on Millennium Place threw another spanner in the works. Dosot says without the second venue, screenings would have been limited to the Rainbow Theatre, which would have inevitably reduced the original selection of 60 full-length and short films.

Rob Hallam, the managing director of Millennium Place, says festival organizers always knew there was a possibility the venue wouldn’t be ready on time. Current estimates put the building officially opening in mid-to-late May, with early occupancy occurring in late April. Hallam says unfortunately the greatest construction delays are in the theatre component and no events can be held there until works are completed.

"I would have loved to host the film festival in Millennium Place but construction has been more complicated than originally anticipated."

Hallam says losing the four day booking isn’t a big financial loss for the venue and there are plenty of other interested event organizers keen to secure space there.

However, local businesses may be out of pocket due to the festival cancellation. In November Gabriel announced block-bookings at The Westin Hotel, The Whistler Conference Centre and in local accommodation for festival events and guests. She has been unavailable for comment.

Dosot says she won’t be returning to the festival management team even if the project is resurrected in 2002 by Gabriel.

"It’s been a really tough year and I am now moving on to new projects," she says. "But I hope Leagh does resurrect it because Whistler has the potential to host a fantastic festival in terms of the location, the contacts and the huge interest."

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