Lights, camera… film institute? 

Whistler Film Festival Society examining the logistics of a film school

Whistler could soon join the lists of ski resorts with film institutes.

The Whistler Film Festival Society — the group that puts on the Whistler Film Festival ever year — is planning on opening up a Whistler Film Institute, similar to the Banff Centre in Alberta and the Sundance Institute in Utah.

The institute would expand on the three-day intensive workshops and the Whistler Filmmaker Forum that the society has held during the film festival.

“It is something that we have kind of had in the back of our minds for a few years, and given Whistler’s setting, it seems like a natural place to do workshops,” said Bill Evens, director of programming for the society.

Initially the institute would be comprised of two to three workshops held throughout the year, with about six to 10 participants each. The institute could then be expanded, depending on the demand.

The idea for a film institute in Whistler was cemented last year when the Whistler Film Festival Society entered into an agreement with the Toronto-based Canadian Film Centre to deliver a producers’ workshop. That workshop, entitled the Go West Project Lab, was held in June and saw six producers, two facilitators and eight film industry experts participate.

“That sort of got the ball rolling,” said Evens.

“We really enjoyed working with (the Canadian Film Centre), and they did with us. We started going back to the older idea that we had about starting something that would have professional development year round, something similar to the Banff Centre or the Sundance Institute.”

According to Evens, a lot of great projects have come out of the Sundance Institute — which the famous Sundance Film Festival later grew out of — including Sex, Lives and Videotapes in 1989 and Reservoir Dogs in 1992.

“The (Sundance) festival kind of grew out of the opportunity to showcase these films and give them some exposure,” said Evens.

“We are kind of going the other way around. We’ve got the festival already.”

To bring the institute from idea to reality, the Whistler Film Festival Society is in the process of developing a strategic plan to assess the project’s feasibility. The strategic plan should be completed by May.

Evens added that the society does not plan to build a new structure to house their film institute. Instead the group will utilize existing facilities in Whistler, such as MY Millennium Place and the Telus Conference Centre.

Despite not having to pony up any construction costs, Evens estimates the project will still cost in the neighbourhood of a few million dollars for a “longer term, sustainable project.”

“Our goal is to make this sustainable, and that is exactly why we need to do this study,” said Evens.

“Getting something like this off the ground is not going to be easy by any means,” he added, explaining that the group needs to research what sources of funding are available, how to attract professionals and what training gaps currently exist in the film industry.

“We don’t want to duplicate anything that is going on in other centres,” he said.

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