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Whistler Film Festival grows attendance again

11,000 ticket stubs represents a 46 per cent increase in attendance



Shauna Hardy Mishaw had to double check and then check the numbers again showing a 46 per cent increase in attendance at this year's Whistler Film Festival.

The executive director of the Whistler Film Festival Society said she was in shock, seeing an attendance increase on that scale in these challenging economic times.

"We didn't think we would reach these numbers until next year," she said of the 2009 festival, which ran from Dec. 3 to 6.

But once the shock wore off, it was elation and confirmation that what they're doing is working.

"To me it indicates a few things," said Hardy Mishaw. "One, there is clearly momentum for what we're doing with the festival and the forum, our program. And there's an appetite for our programs, and we're capable of growing and building capacity.

"To have that sort of an increase in this kind of economic time is to me, remarkable."

Even 10 days before the festival began, organizers were on the edges of their seats, waiting for the uptake. Ticket sales at that time were slow. And then the furor began.

"Our box office basically tripled in 10 days leading up to the festival," said Hardy Mishaw.

Like trends seen throughout the resort, guests are booking at the last minute.

While the accommodation reports are still out on how the festival affected hotel room nights over the course of the weekend (there were 27 hotel partners connected to the festival), Hardy Mishaw attributes the increase in attendance to local interest too.

"I definitely think there was a surge in local attendance for sure," she said.

The 46 per cent increase translates to 11,000 tickets to screenings. Last year there were 7,500 tickets to screenings.

The increase was due partly because there were eight additional screenings, with 300 seats each, including the closing gala, at the Whistler Conference Centre. In addition, a third theatre at Village 8 Cinemas was booked for festival use.

While it worked, and brought people out, it's not really what the festival organizers envision for the long term.

"The environment is not conducive to the kind of experience we want to present," said Hardy Mishaw. "But that being said, what it indicated to us is that that capacity will enable us to increase our numbers and build our programming."

This year proves, she added, the need for a permanent home for the film festival and gives more impetus for her Rainbow Theatre Project - a $1.5 million project to renovate and transform the defunct Rainbow Theatre into a state of the art home for the film festival.

Last month council endorsed the project as owners of the building, but the financing is expected to come from other government grants and fundraising. Some of that fundraising took place over the festival weekend but Hardy Mishaw will be releasing an update on that project at a later date.

The goal is to have the renovations complete by December 2010, in time for the festival's 10 th anniversary.

In the past 10 years the festival has grown year over year and has become a staple in Whistler's annual festival lineup.

In its first year, there were 3,600 in attendance, with 13 film screenings.

Said an elated Hardy Mishaw: "Here we are nine years later and we've managed to grow by three times."



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