The Whistler Film Festival Society (WFFS) is seeking large increases in Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funding from the municipality for the festival’s operating budget and the delayed Rainbow Theatre project.
The WFFS has requested an annual contribution of $300,000 towards operations and a commitment from the municipality to more than double the $355,000 already earmarked for proposed theatre upgrades.
Festival founder Shauna Hardy Mishaw and other WFFS representatives presented the request to council during Tuesday’s (Feb. 21) committee of the whole session at municipal hall, detailing their vision to double the festival’s total economic impact within B.C. by 2020.
“I would go so far as to say we are the only organization that can put Whistler on the map internationally in terms of culture right now,” Hardy Mishaw told council. “We’re it.”
The municipality’s RMI funding contribution to the festival’s operating budget in 2011 was approximately $270,000, though that figure included more than $145,000 reallocated from the Rainbow Theatre budget after title sponsor American Express backed out on the event.
Hardy Mishaw called 2011 a “breakthrough year” for the festival, which she said generated an economic impact of $5.1 million for B.C., $2.8 million of which was realized in Whistler. Additionally, the event generated 130 million media impressions, which the society values at $13.5 million, to bring the event’s total value proposition to $18.6 million.
The WFFS intends to double that figure to $35 million by 2020, aided by the requested increase in funding.
“It’s my understanding that this is what RMI funds are directly for and we have demonstrated that we can certainly make it worth the investment,” said Hardy Mishaw.
From 2004 to 2010, the festival received $50,000 annually in RMI funding towards operations. No economic impact assessments were conducted during that period.
Hardy Mishaw also reported that the festival has a “formidable company” lined up as a financial partner, and that municipal support is critical to finalizing the deal.
“In meeting with their VP of corporate marketing last week, he said, ‘OK, you’re a jet on the runway and we’re prepared to put gas in your tank, but you need to make sure that Whistler ensures that you’re going to take off,’” she said.
As for the Rainbow Theatre, the society is asking the RMOW to commit to a funding range of $765,000 to $1.4 million, with the amount pending approval of a resubmitted Heritage Canada (PCH) Cultural Spaces Fund grant.
The initial grant application was denied last year, and Hardy Mishaw said PCH communicated that the contribution from other levels of government for the project were too low while also expressing concern over the ratio of “arts to non-arts cost.” PCH will not fund non-art elements of the project.
With that in mind, the WFFS has broken up the theatre project in two phases, with the focus of the first phase centred on improvements to the auditorium and technical equipment. The society intends to have the first phase completed in time for the 2012 festival in December, said Hardy Mishaw.
PCH will fund up to 50 per cent of the project, but Hardy Mishaw said its average funding level on approved projects is 37 per cent. The range of funding the WFFS is seeking from the municipality represents the high and low end of the spectrum — if PCH funds the full 50 per cent, the RMI contribution would be $765,000, but another denial of the application would require the RMOW provide $1.4 million to complete the renovations under the WFFS proposal.
The municipality has already earmarked $355,000 for the project, representing what’s left of the previously-budgeted $500,000 that was tapped into for the operating budget last year.
Hardy Mishaw said the Rainbow Theatre project is critical to future success of the festival and that it’s about time the municipality invests in a facility it owns.
“Since 1985, they haven’t put any money into (the theatre). That’s (27) years that there’s been no capital investment in that specific building,” Hardy Mishaw said in an interview later on Tuesday.
RMOW officials said Wednesday (Feb. 22) that no date had been set for when council may vote on the request, but that municipal staff would be considering the society’s wish to have a decision made in March.
Hardy Mishaw also announced a new partnership with the state-run China Film Group that will result in co-productions between the two nations. Two such films are confirmed for 2012, she said, adding that a script competition will be launched this year that will lead to three films per year receiving development funding in the range of $3 to $10 million.