SPOTLIGHT October 2018: Shauna Hardy Mishaw, Executive Director Whistler Film Festival

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AWFJ’s October 2018 SPOTLIGHT is on Shauna Hardy Mishaw, an international movie mogul who neither produces nor directs movies. Nor does she write, work crew or appear in them. Mishaw’s extraordinary industry impact comes from the role she plays as Executive Director of Canada’s Whistler Film Festival (WFF), where her stellar performance has notably and consistently opened the doors of opportunity for emerging cinema artists, especially for women.

She is dedicated and tireless, and she gets great results. If you are a female filmmaker, working in any capacity and at any stage of your career, WFF is the right place to be, and Shauna Hardy Mishaw is a woman you want to know.


During the 18 years since she co-founded WFF with Kasi Lubin in 2001, Shauna Hardy Mishaw has converted Canada’s popular ski resort into an international showcase hub and a Canadian centerpiece of cinema culture, one that has been successfully developed through community involvement and well-deserved government and industry support.

“When we founded WFF, it was with the intention to create opportunities for new and original voices to be heard in independent film, to put Whistler on the map as a cultural destination and to promote British Columbia’s burgeoning film industry. The festival has not changed in terms of its purpose, but it has grown way beyond what we ever imagined in terms of its size, scope and scale,” says Mishaw, who’s quick to quote stats to support her comments. “To date, WFF has presented 1,293 films, 145 awards (including AWFJ EDA Awards for Female Filmmakers) and commissions valued at $1.6 million. Having attracted and launched some of the top talent of our time, and established a community of over 2,137 filmmaker and industry alumni, we’ve become a vital component of the Canadian screen-based industry, and a valued partner in the resort community of Whistler.”

Under Mishaw’s guidance, WFF has matured from a volunteer-driven organization with a starting budget of $30,000 to a cultural organization with an annual operating budget of over $1.5 million. Almost $20 million dollars have been invested to date in WFF and its affiliated programs.


Manifesting Mishaw’s sense of mission about developing independent film, WFF programming actually encompasses more than the selection and scheduling of films to be screened during the annual keystone five-day early-winter movie-watching marathon and the moviemakers meet up. Working with Mishaw, WFF’s all-women year-round staff stages immersive workshops on the technical and business aspects of moviemaking and schedules special themed screening series throughout the year.


“At WFF, we are committed to discovering, connecting and developing talent. My work priorities revolve around that mandate. I am most proud of the slate of talent programs we’ve developed to support artists, and to advance their projects and craft and, to that end, engaging established filmmakers, industry guilds and organizations to partner with us to mentor a new generation of artists and create opportunities for them,” says Mishaw.

Shauna Hardy Mishaw presents WFF award to Rashida Jones
WFF’s mentorship Programs include the Women on Top Mentorship, ​Women in the Director’s Chair Industry Immersion and Women in Film & Television Film Market Preparation Mentorship. Add to those women-only programs, others open to both women and men, including the ​Producers Lab, Praxis Screenwriters Lab, Indigenous Filmmaker Fellowship​,​ Power Pitch, Doc Lab, ​Music Showcase, Stars to Watch and MPPIA Short Film Award Pitch​ with the Motion Picture Production Industry Association and Creative BC. The selection of participants is diverse and inclusive.

“In our programming and in the film industry, we face not only a gender issue, but one concerning inclusion and diversity, too. It’s not a new concern, and we have consciously and constantly laid the groundwork for equality. Our focus on women filmmakers has been ongoing for more than a decade. That said, we think the change for diversity and inclusion should and will be organic, ultimately reflecting changes in social attitudes and expectations. And, we see this happening. Last year, about 30 percent of our festival films were directed by women. This year, we expect the program to be about 40 percent women-directed,” Mishaw comments. “It’s understandable why quotas are set, but we always program films for their excellence and to provide viewers with a real and relevant variety of subjects and points of view. The shift may be more gradual that way, but it’s also sustainable.”


WFF’s annual Women on Top networking summit, a by-invitation brunch held atop Whistler Mountain, is one of Mishaw’s favorite festival events.

Melissa Leo and Shauna Hardy Mishaw at WFF
Staged to promote learning and growth around the issues of gender equity and cultural diversity in media both on screens and behind the scenes, the event features an inspiring keynote address by a female-friendly woman of influence in moviemaking, plus good food and the intensely productive exchange of business cards and screeners among 100 women who work in all aspects of in film. For Mishaw, seeing partnerships arise at Women on Top is intensely satisfying — as is having colleagues join her in a post-summit ski race to base of the mountain.


Mishaw is far from reticent, but rather than talk about herself, her conversation centers primarily on WFF. Or skiing. She moved to Whistler because the sport and mountain culture are integral to her chosen lifestyle. That said, she is quite clear in declaring that WFF is not a mountain culture festival. But, she readily acknowledges the connection between mountain life and her love of film. It began when she was a child.

Mishaw was not born into a film family, nor did she go to film school. She actually spent much of her early childhood in the Austrian Alps, and she learned to ski inthe Candian Rokies when she was two years old. She says the first movie she remembers seeing is the alpine-set The Sound of Music, with a story and score that captured her interest and imagination her at first look. It was the beginning of her lifelong love of cinema, and its still one of her favorite films. She describes the impact of the film almost as though seeing it was a rite of passage.

“Everything about The Sound of Music resonated with me. The kids, the mountains, the strong and appealing lead character was a woman, and the story. Part of my family is Polish, so the story was very meaningful to me. It made quite an impression on me. It made me think about things I hadn’t thought about, and that’s what movies — good movies — should always do,” she says.

Now, Mishaw and her husband, who works in property management, have regular movie nights with their two pre-teen sons to introduce the youngsters to a diverse and inclusive cinema culture that will enhance their understanding and broaden their experiences.


AWFJ focuses our October SPOTLIGHT on Sheila Hardy Mishaw because as co-founder and Executive Director of Whistler Film Festival, she has created a cinema environment where women filmmakers find generous, knowledgeable and viable support and opportunities to develop and promote their work. Over the year’s Mishaw has, while expanding the festival’s primary five-day event to year round programming with inclusion and diversity at its core, transformed the resort town of Whistler into a center for comprehensive cinema culture.

Jennifer Merin

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).