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The Globe and Mail

Whistler Film Festival gets a silver-screen lining

Whistler Fiim Festival executive director and founder Shauna Hardy Mishaw briefs her team Leah Primeau, Lindsay Nahmiache and Liza Lindgren prior to the opening night Gala and presentation of the film STILL, November 28, 2012.


For years, the Whistler Film Festival Society (WFFS) has been plotting to take over the Rainbow Theatre, give it a multimillion-dollar makeover and turn it into the permanent home of the Whistler Film Festival – "a Ferrari" was how festival director Shauna Hardy Mishaw described it to The Globe and Mail as she explained her plans three years ago.

But if you make it to the Whistler Film Festival next week, you will notice the theatre remains more of a jalopy, circa 1985.

That is about to change. It is not the renovation or the operating plan the film festival had hoped for, but this winter, the theatre will finally undergo desperately needed upgrades.

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The plan for a $2.7-million renovation to create a spiffy, world-class theatre operated by the WFFS – a grand entrance, revamped lobby, new washrooms – has been scaled back to about half that amount. The plan ended this summer when the Resort Municipality of Whistler (which owns the theatre) instead allocated funds to Tourism Whistler (which operates the theatre) to refurbish the outdated venue, which is in the Whistler Conference Centre.

Now, a silver-screen lining: the WFFS signed an agreement with Tourism Whistler last week for the festival to continue to use the theatre for 10 years, with an option for another 10. The festival's director of special projects says the agreement includes "very favourable terms" for the society.

"The big need from the festival's point of view was to have a good place to show a movie, and this does it," said Jane Milner, who has been lobbying for the upgrade for years. "So I think it's great."

Work will begin after this year's festival wraps up on Dec. 8, and is scheduled to be completed in March.

The $540,000 renovation will include work on drywall, acoustic panels, ceiling tiles, lighting, theatre seats, the stage, carpeting and upgrading some of the audio-visual equipment.

"It's pretty much an overhaul all the way around," said Barrett Fisher, Tourism Whistler's president and CEO.

The lion's share of the funding for the renovation – $500,000 – is coming from the resort municipality; the rest will be from the private sector.

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While the conference centre has had two upgrades in the past decade years, renovations to the 1985 theatre were not part of either refurbishment.

"It was definitely time," Ms. Fisher said.

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