It supposedly takes one decade for a film festival to be relevant so it's dismal timing for the Whistler Film Festival, celebrating its 10 th anniversary this year, to lose its major sponsor.
American Express pulled out of the festival to focus on bigger city markets, leaving the WFF $300,000 short in it's total expenses. Shauna Hardy Mishaw pleaded to council last week to give them a one-time investment of $145,960 from Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funds to help the festival along because without it, she told council, the festival would have to go on hiatus. The WFF says that a one-year hiatus is tantamount to a permanent cancellation.
"Hollywood moves so fast," says director of development Jane Milner. "Institutionalizing a festival depends on your credibility, on being there and being there year after year. You just can't stop. It would just go away."
WFF, which is set to run Nov. 30 to Dec. 4, has secured a spot in the industry's favour. Milner has just returned from the Toronto International Film Festival, one of the most celebrated festivals in the world, where she received positive and enthusiastic responses about what has been happening at the Whistler festival.
"In the film festival world, we've arrived," Milner says.
Unfortunately for them, reputation does not guarantee financial stability. Milner says the Whistler Film Festival Society (WFFS) had known since the end of last year's festival that American Express was going to pull out and that Hardy Mishaw and Milner had been "going back at them for months" but they had made a strategic corporate decision to move on.
If the RMI money comes through, they will still have to scale back some of the festivities. Milner says that festival programming will remain the same but superfluous events, including the opening gala, will have to be scrapped.
"Unless somebody steps forward to pay for an opening gala, it probably means we won't have the opening party with the free drinks and nibblies before the opening film," Milner says. "But there are frankly so many parties that go on that have nothing to do with us, they just go on because the industries go in and put them on privately. There are lots of ways to have fun."
Council agreed to the WFFS's request, on the condition that the money is used for technical equipment and venue rentals, and as long as the provincial government agreed to it. The province must approve all RMI spending.
"This was not an easy decision for council," says Mayor Ken Melamed. "We don't want to set a precedent for supporting events because that's not what we do. There are a lot of events in Whistler and we were quite concerned about the perception that that kind of support is available."