You may have heard of the Tipping Point, a theory that ideas can spread like viruses and that everything from rumours to crime rates to sudden increases in shoe sales have a tipping point, a moment of critical mass or threshold where those ideas converge and take off. For the Whistler film community that tipping point was late fall 2001, when Shauna Hardy Mishaw and Kasi Lubin started the Whistler Film Festival.
Showcasing 13 Canadian films in what was then a one-movie-screen town, the inaugural Whistler Film Festival drew an audience of over 1,300 viewers and ignited the filmic spirit. Five months later the World Ski and Snowboard Festival introduced the 72-Hour Filmmaker showdown - a contest of run-and-gun guerrilla filmmaking - and six months after that Heavy Hitting held the first B-Grade HorrorFest. The tipping point had tipped, and suddenly we were a movie town, although no one expected it.
"We were flying by the seats of our pants," Hardy Mishaw explains. "We had no indicators that a film festival would work. We had no idea what was going to happen. Kasi and I did every job at the first festival."
The next year they added more films and an industry forum and by 2004 the WFF had expanded sufficiently to hire a programming director and entice American Express on board as a title sponsor.
"We got more defined," Hardy Mishaw explains, "and decided what we wanted to do was establish Whistler as a destination to connect business and film."
Over the past 10 years the Whistler Film Festival Society, a charitable organization, has screened over 700 movies and provided an economic impact of over $10 million. They employ five full-time and 30 part-time staff and rely on up to 150 volunteers. And, most importantly, they bring kick-ass films, movie moguls, directors, writers and (sometimes) smoking hot starlets into our quiet mountain town for five days of screenings, parties, industry forums and good times on the slopes.
While other Canadian film festivals like Toronto or Vancouver show hundreds of films to tens of thousands of people, Hardy Mishaw says the idea behind this fest is to keep things smaller, more intimate and much more industry-focused.
"I look at it like we are fine dining and Vancouver is a buffet," she jokes about the differences between the two film festivals. "You can go down there and watch 300 films over 16 days. Here it is short and sweet. You watch films after skiing and it's laid back and intimate. Everything is close together and we have top people from Canada, LA, even China coming here to meet and do business but also to connect with the audience and each other. It's a great way to showcase the industry in B.C."
That industry, film, TV and new media, is estimated to be worth over $4 billion annually and Vancouver is our country's new media hub. Being an hour and half drive away from all that is a definite advantage but Hardy Mishaw explains that the Whistler Film Festival is about more than numbers and industry stats.
"It's about adding character to Whistler," she explains.
Hardy Mishaw first came here for a weekend in 1991 and moved up the next week, later marrying and raising two kids in Whistler. She "gets it."
She's also executive produced 22 local short films under the Whistler Stories program, giving many Sea to Sky filmmakers, including me, their first paid gig.
"We know we have great characters here," Hardy Mishaw says, "and it's cool to bring people to this special town. The Whistler community is very unique and generous and there is a relentless can-do spirit. That is how we were able to get the Olympics and with that same spirit and the right global partners we can become one of the preeminent film festivals on the planet."
Ten years in, with the WFF still growing steadily, Hardy Mishaw is turning her sights to the old Rainbow theatre, with plans to build a state-of-the-art digital facility worth over $2.5 million to ensure the Whistler Film Festival has a permanent home and to position our quiet mountain town as a global player in the film world.
"If we want to be one of the best fests in the world we need this technology," Hardy Mishaw says. "To have this theatre, we will have a huge opportunity."
She's already signed the lease and, with one filmic Tipping Point already in the bag, Shauna Hardy Mishaw seems poised to bring Whistler another one.