Whistler Film Festival sees 20 per cent increase in attendance 

Box office and number of delegates from around the world also grew

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The Whistler Film Festival experienced significant growth this year, with attendance spiking 20 per cent compared to 2011.

"We almost had 10,000 attendees. That's bums in seats," says Shauna Hardy Mishaw, executive director and founder of the festival.

In total, 9,964 people attended the festival's 12th installment between Nov. 28 and Dec. 2, compared to 8,270 last year. The festival also saw 10 per cent more delegates — hailing from as far as Norway and Japan — and a 37 per cent increase at the box office. "I think it was really a banner year for us," Hardy Mishaw says. "We hit some big numbers. We had more high profile talent in screenings and deals than ever before. It was definitely successful from that perspective."

The festival also garnered national and international media attention, from the Globe and Mail to the Hollywood Reporter and the Daily Mail in the U.K. (The latter covered Daniel Radcliffe's sold out Q&A Friday.)

"It was a quantum leap for us," says Hardy Mishaw. "We definitely exceeded all expectations and the media coverage was prolific. The world knows about Whistler."

Slowly, she says, they're reaching their goal of becoming a must-attend film festival for the industry and movie fans. "Things don't happen overnight," she adds. "There's a lot of blood, sweat and tears that have gone into it."

Almost immediately after crunching numbers and debriefing, Hardy Mishaw and the Whistler Film Festival Society will begin working towards 2013, trying to secure sponsors, as well as capital to renovate Rainbow Theatre, which they hope to transform into a festival home base.

She was still digesting statistics Tuesday and said she preferred not to discuss the ongoing struggle to secure funding for the project, but later that night the issue came up at the regular Whistler council meeting as it worked to help the festival secure funding.

The WFFS has been asking for increased Resort Municipality Initiative funding, up from the $350,000 that has already been contributed, to $700,000, as well as to re-submit the application for a Canadian Heritage Cultural Spaces grant on behalf of the WFFS. Much of the funding would go to upgrade technology and venues. In September, Hardy Mishaw said without the theatre upgrades the WFF was in danger of collapse. At that time council was concerned about committing the funding without the total needed for the upgrades, $2.67 million, being in place.

On Tuesday, Dec. 4, the Resort Municipality of Whistler's Audit and Finance Standing Committee recommended that council agree to provide the WFFS with $350,000 in RMI funds for the renovation if they met certain requirements, including securing $1.34 million by Dec. 31.

"We put Dec. 31 as a target date because there are deadlines with the government for subsidizing," says Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden. "We just really needed to have an end date for that. If that funding doesn't come through we'll look at Plan B."

The festival itself "really did seem to come out to a new level this year," she adds. "It's one of our very important events for a number of reasons... It brings people to Whistler who wouldn't otherwise come and that's one of the very things the cultural tourism strategy (aims) to do."

The festival also won a stamp of approval from Toronto actor Jonas Chernick, who starred in two films that screened during the week, including My Awkward Sexual Adventure, which won the WFF Audience Award. "He called it, 'Canada's coolest festival,'" Hardy Mishaw says. "What I found really cool this year was listening to what other people are saying about us. They're saying great things and they want to be a part of this. We need the community to really rally behind us."

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