The Whistler Film Festival has a new director of programming and he has his eye on the Pacific Rim.
Paul Gratton, a Toronto-based industry consultant with 30 years experience, plans to make Whistler North America's gateway to the industries located along the Pacific Rim.
With its new found partnership with China in the "China Canada Gateway for Film," he says the festival is already stepping in that direction.
There's but one major obstacle in the way: there's no venue currently available in Whistler to sufficiently nurture the festival's growth.
"...I was disappointed by what I currently saw was available," Gratton says after less than a week on the job.
"I have big ambitions for the festival, but if you're going to be a world-class film festival you kind of need world-class screening facilities and I'm not sure that Whistler quite has that available to it."
He says nearly all film festivals face similar problems — once they reach a point where they're trying to "reach the next level." They're often held back by the screening venues that are available.
But the lack of digital projection technology will be a significant barrier in attracting the kinds of films he hopes to bring to Whistler.
"When we're talking about major Hollywood premiers and everything, I'm not sure with the current set up that we'd be able to handle it in the way that we'd like," he says.
"If there's going to be an ongoing commitment to this community for this festival in order to watch it grow and become an essential part of the international branding of Whistler... it kind of behooves everybody to try to provide this film festival in the longer term with facilities that would do us proud."
The WFF Society has been pushing for the $2.5 million renovation of the Rainbow Theatre, which will include an overhaul of its film equipment, including a state of the art digital projection and sound technology that would support the screening of high profile Hollywood films.
The RMOW had applied for a federal Canadian Heritage grant on behalf of the WFFS, which was rejected last year, though the RMOW was encouraged to resubmit the application. That has yet to happen and, according to WFF managing director Jane Milner, "the project appears to have stalled."
"I'd say we're in a tough spot with the theatre," Milner says.
With or without an upgraded theatre, Gratton says there will be increased programming from the Pacific Rim for the 2012 festival, which will run from Nov. 28 to Dec. 2. For the non-Canadian programming, he's looking to China, Australia and India, though his original plan to bring in high-profile Bollywood films — and big name Bollywood stars — has been put on hold because the facilities currently available could not handle the crowd they would inevitably attract.
"Some of the more ambitious stuff will have to sit on the backburner until we can upgrade these facilities," he says.
WFF executive director Shauna Hardy Mishaw says that Gratton's vision is in alignment with what festival organizers had been working towards for years. Last year, WFF announced the CCGF, a co-production partnership between the two countries through which the China Canada Script Competition has already been launched.
"He's got this wealth of background that brings a new perspective to what we're doing — I would say a fresh perspective — and that's really going to serve us well," Hardy Mishaw says.
Gratton, the former vice president of entertainment specialty channels for CHUM will be responsible for the planning and execution of all film and industry programming at the 2012 Whistler Film Festival and Summit.
Gratton is replacing former director of programming Stacey Donen. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Donen left to focus on his duties as director of programming at The Royal indie cinema and post-production facility in Toronto.