In just eight years, the Whistler Film Festival has managed to wiggle its way into the spotlight as one of Canada's prime industry events, and if organizers have their way, it will soon be counted among the world's top 10 film festivals.
But before it reaches that pinnacle, the Whistler Film Festival Society needs a state-of-the-art venue to offer to the tech-savvy folks from film, television and new media sectors.
They've set their sights on Rainbow Theatre, a 25-year-old venue that is owned by the Resort Municipality of Whistler and are trying to raise $2.5 million to develop programming and transform the underutilized space into a 300-seat digital theatre equipped with plush seats, the latest in projection and sound technology, a modern lounge area, and a red carpet entrance.
Shauna Hardy Mishaw, cofounder and executive director of the WFFS, explained that they officially launched their fundraising campaign, dubbed Future in Focus, on June 25 during the WFFS's annual gala, which was held in Vancouver. Since then, they've managed to raise 10 per cent of the needed funds.
"We're excited about that, but it's a process and it takes time, and it's going to certainly gain momentum over the next few months," Hardy Mishaw said, pointing out that it is a multi-year campaign.
"The showcase component of the festival is absolutely critical for success, and we need a venue that offers enough of a capacity and the technologically-supported environment in order to do what we want to do not only with our festival, but with our programs going forward," Hardy Mishaw said.
Other theatres in town simply can't support major gala events, and while they could host a gala event at the Telus Conference Centre, the venue couldn't also support subsequent screenings.
"Also, its not comfortable to sit on a conference chair for hours and hours and hours and watch films," Hardy Mishaw said.
After the renovations are complete, the Rainbow Theatre will become the official hub and year-round home for the WFFS offices and events. And since Rainbow Theatre is a municipal property, the facility would also be made available for rental to other groups through Tourism Whistler.
"...If we want to become one of the top 10 in the world, we have to make sure that we have the proper infrastructure," Hardy Mishaw said. "The good news is that we're absolutely blessed because Whistler has the accommodation and amenity infrastructure that allows us to position ourselves as a destination film festival."
Aside from hosting WFFS's year-round screenings, Hardy Mishaw explained that they are also developing a major new advanced training institute for mid-career professionals from the film, television and new media industry. And since the state-of-the-art facility would be one of the only ones of its kind in Western Canada, it would also allow Whistler to further tap into Vancouver's creative entertainment market, which is valued at $3.2 billion.
"Our goal is to be deeply associated with that industry and to help position British Columbia as one of the leading (destinations) in the world for the entertainment business," Hardy Mishaw said. "So that's good news for Whistler, it's extremely exciting for Whistler to bring that level of business here."
A few months ago Hardy Mishaw approached Jane Milner, former Assistant Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture, to get some input on her plans to make the Whistler Film Festival one of the best in the world.
"It's a very achievable goal because the Olympics are coming, all eyes are going to be on us, because Vancouver is an important film centre, and because as we evolved the strategy, it became clear that we had a unique business proposition," said Milner, who is now chair of the Future in Focus campaign.
Milner agrees that it is vital for Whistler to tap into diverse tourism markets, pointing out that cultural tourism is currently the fastest growing tourism sector.
"There are huge companies like Rainmaker that do animation, special effects, digital post production, digital editing, digital sound, and it's a huge community. And then, on top of that, there's the digital gaming community, and it's all converging," Milner said.
Milner believes that a state-of-the-art venue is essential to the success and growth of the WFFS.
"One of the important pieces of the business proposition is to be at the forefront of the impact of digital technology on film and that is key," Milner said, pointing to the way digital technology has revolutionized the music industry.
People can contribute anywhere from $1,000, which will buy you a named seat at the theatre, to $1 million in exchange for naming rights for the theatre, lounge or projection room.
"This town has helped build this organization and now, we want to take it to the next level," Hardy Mishaw said.