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Whistler Film Festival at 15: An epic party and more programs for filmmakers

Executive director Shauna Hardy Mishaw and team begin to roll out the events — and are planning to show more film entries than ever at the December festival



The Whistler Film Festival (WFF) may be well into its teenage years, but it is acting very grown-up for its age.

This is its 15th year and for executive director Shauna Hardy Mishaw, the future is as important as the past.

"We're excited. Whenever you hit a milestone mark in your evolution, it's a really good time for reflection and to look ahead to the future," she says.

"We set an ambitious course and we're working towards it."

That course, highlighted by additions to the December festival that have already been announced, can be considered the groundwork for the creation of a much longed for Whistler Film Festival Institute to support film creation in Canada — the move of a mature festival.

"We have established ourselves as a filmmaker festival and we're revered within that community. We proud of that and trying to harness that as we work towards our future," Hardy Mishaw says.

"We've always envisioned an institute as part of what we do. We have the film festival industry summit, and our project-development programs for Canadian filmmakers are formidable in the country. They are amazing, creative immersions."

She says that the institute model is evolving, becoming stronger and more likely to be formalized.

"We provide programs that help filmmakers hone their skills and get access to people who they wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to meet. It's to make sure their projects get made and move from script to screen," says Hardy Mishaw.Already, 10 films have been confirmed for the festival and submissions have surpassed last year's 700 entries with six weeks left to the deadline on Aug. 31.

"That is saying to me that people know us, word is out there," Hardy Mishaw says.

"I have to credit our team for being on it and we're working very hard to bring an even more exciting lineup this year — and last year was excellent."

Along with the dozens of public screenings, award presentations and star interviews, the sheer number of industry events the festival hosts around the resort from Dec. 2 to 6 is impressive and varied.

There are still many announcements to come before December, of course, but Hardy Mishaw was able to give a taste of what festivalgoers can expect.

When it comes to the business of filmmaking, diversity will play a big role.

Some examples have been announced. There is a new four-month intensive program for female directors — Women in the Director's Chair, WFF is becoming the sole host of the Praxis Screenwriters Lab, there is an expansion of their aboriginal filmmaker fellowship, along with a new Power Pitch two-step pitch competition.

And she can divulge that there will be a bobsled race as part of the festival this year, along with the annual celebrity ski race challenge.

"We are taking the best of Whistler and the best of the festival and putting them together," she says.

"We want to be one of the only festivals in the country that can take advantage of being really inspired by nature and by the experience of coming here."

And there is more for the public to see.

"As far as the festival goes, there will be exciting things tying into our storytelling theme. There will be enhanced access for the public to specific venues and experiences. If they have festival credential, so for example, they will be able to go to our music showcase," Hardy Mishaw says.

"We want the public to integrate more with the festival, as opposed to just through the theatrical venues.

"And we're going to have an epic party to celebrate."

WFF is also launching an alumni campaign at the beginning of September and will run interviews, photos and video storytelling about the careers of the hundreds of filmmakers who have come here for lab programs, with films, or as guests.

"We have 1,310 alumni who have been a part of our story for the last 13 years," says Hardy Mishaw.

"Will have them talk about their stories and how they connect us. Our community doesn't always know about the impact on the filmmakers who have been coming to the festival."

She is also pleased with the growing cultural importance of Whistler, citing the summer education programs offered here by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, the Emily Carr University of Art + Design, and the soon-to-open Audain Art Museum.

"There's a big cultural story in this town, and we're really excited to be a part of it. Whistler is embracing it on all levels," says Hardy Mishaw.

"I'm very encouraged by the commitment to cultural tourism, not only because it's in the Corporate Plan of the RMOW. That is a major evolution in the community because I can remember when arts and culture was not high on the list as a strategic priority. We are very encouraged that it is."


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