WFF meeting gets heated 

Group asks for increased commitment from RMOW

  • At the table. Tourism Whistler board chair Roger Soane (left), former councillor Nick Davies and Whistler Film Festival executive director Shauna Hardy Mishaw address council at a commitee of the Whole meeting on Tuesday, explaining the ne

After a year of stalled progress on the Rainbow Theatre renovation project the Whistler Film Festival Society aired its grievances before a council that, it feels, has been less than cooperative.

At the request of council, executive director Shauna Hardy Mishaw again laid out at a Committee of the Whole meeting this week why the RMOW needs to come to the table with increased funding for the festival upgrades. Her message was clear: the delays in council's decision-making processes are to the detriment of the festival. Without the theatre upgrades, the festival will eventually collapse.

"We need to make sure we can deliver what we're promising (for this festival). Our biggest challenge right now is our venues and our technology," a visibly rankled Hardy Mishaw told council.

"We're asking you to be collaborative and creative. We're asking for you to direct staff with us in that manner, because I don't think that has happened...We're frustrated!"

By this point in the meeting, hostility had begun to bubble up. Councillor Duane Jackson, clearly annoyed, told Hardy Mishaw, "I don't really like the tone of the 'us' and 'them.' I think we're all collectively informed of what's going on."

He continued, saying that the RMOW contributed $125,000 in RMI funds through Festivals Events and Animation — more than any other event gets. Council would consider contributing more if the WFFS could outline where, exactly, the rest of the money would come from.

"It's our asset, of which we're not managing the process," said Jackson. "If anything goes wrong, if the failure of the funds to arrive or costs increase, we wear it. If the business plan, which I don't think we've been presented or had the opportunity to read the assumptions, doesn't work, we wear it... I think we have to be very careful that we don't start something that you can't finish," he says.

(Editor's note: The business plan was included in the meeting package presented to council:

The upgrades will include a complete overhaul of the technology, including CDI-compliant projectors that will allow the festival to screen big Hollywood productions. Managing director Jane Milner told council that the festival has had to turn down films due to inadequate technology.

The WFFS is asking for increased RMI funding, up from the $350,000 that has already been contributed, to $700,000, as well as to re-submit the application for a Heritage Cultural Spaces grant on behalf of the WFFS.

The grant was denied in August 2011 on the basis that too much of the proposal was devoted to the exterior of the building. The feds also expressed concern that the municipal and provincial governments were not matching the federal funds.

Milner says the increased level of funding and support from the RMOW will constitute municipal and provincial contributions, since the RMI money is provincial money.

Tourism Whistler board chair Roger Soane, told council, "I look at what we're trying to do as a resort and I see us looking out for festivals and events, and I look at the Whistler Film Festival and see that it's something that we've done well for 12 years, and it's something that is a great investment for the future.

"It isn't an easy sell and I think it's something that if we renovate to a certain level, it can be beneficial not only for groups coming in, but also for the community as well... To me, this is a win-win for the community."

Hardy Mishaw told council that the festival delivers a direct economic benefit to the province worth $5.5 million, $2.8 million of which occurs in Whistler. Combine that with media value, she says, and the festival's impact is over $18 million for Whistler. The goal is to double that in 10 years.

Its partnerships with Bell Media, Variety magazine, which will be publishing an issue dedicated to the festival distributed around the world, and with China through the China-Canada Gateway for Film indicate the level of excitement and interest that the festival is generating outside of Whistler.

"We're not coming to you with our hands out. We are coming to you to ask for your partnership," Hardy Mishaw said.

"We have the attention of Hollywood and we have the attention of China. We need your attention."

But Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden disagreed with Hardy Mishaw assessment of the partnership, saying, "I just want to reiterate that we are partners with the WFFS. We take the partnership seriously. We take your request seriously."

She acknowledges that there was a "gap" in the process, with the election and the oversight committee.

"It may seem to you that government is moving slowly," the mayor said. "I have a bit of a different view. We set up these committees for accountability purposes. We have to go with the framework that we've set up, or else we fall back into the old ad-hoc regime, and that's (the issue) we want to raise."

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