When it comes to location, the perception of lack of parking is our number one issue.
—Cecilia Araneda, executive director, Winnipeg Film Group
In the face of declining box office revenue, changing government funding priorities and an inflexible presentation space, the Winnipeg Film Group is pondering a move from its current home in the Artspace Building.
The chance Winnipeg's largest filmmaking organization may leave its central Exchange District home -- and the lack of a concrete vision for what a proposed new "media arts hub" will look like -- is prompting debate in the filmmaking community.
"We need to consider that we're a community-serving organization," says Film Group executive director Cecilia Araneda, who has tracked a 50% decline in box office revenue from Cinematheque, the WFG's presentation space and largest component.
A drop in revenue doesn't capture audience attendance year over year, but Araneda says it provides a "reasonably accurate comparative snapshot," and offers "a sense of the realities the organization has to consider in its planning."
"We're here to provide a broad cinema education experience in Winnipeg. If we don't develop Cinematheque, if we don't consider ideas and develop plans, if we just let market forces happen, I don't think that's responsible stewardship," Arandea explains.
Last year the film group co-commissioned a feasibility study with Artspace, exploring the possibility of a new home for a number of different visual media arts groups. A new space, Araneda says, would allow Cinematheque to tackle facility issues, such as its small screen and insufficiently sloped floor, as well as location issues that keep patrons away.
"When it comes to location, the perception of lack of parking is our number one issue," Araneda says, citing patron surveys. "The majority of our patrons come in by car, 60 per cent, with another large group coming by bus... I love the Exchange and know how to park here, but the reality for someone who comes downtown once or twice a year is there is a psychological barrier."
The feasibility study's lack of specifics on location and design concern filmmaker Damien Ferland, an eight-year member of the WFG.
"I think it would be out of place if it left the Exchange," he says. "It's part of Winnipeg that's known to be where artists work, where work is exhibited.... I think people like going downtown, but yes, it does need to be more accessible."
"I like the idea of new facilities that will benefit filmmakers," Ferland adds, noting that a capital campaign would almost certainly mean directing funds away from the equipment and production space rental programs he most frequently uses as a filmmaker.
"There has to be some sort of balance. If there's less focus on production, there has to be a commitment to go back to it once the Cinematheque has seen improvements."
Clint Enns, a six-year film group member who recently relocated to Toronto, says moving the organization's home is the wrong priority.
"The funding should be going to filmmaking and building community. It doesn't seem like the community has been consulted."
He dismisses Araneda's assertion that WFG members have been given the opportunity for input at drop-in information sessions and annual general meetings. "I've gone through one or two AGMs and they seemed heavily micro-managed... I feel like it's not really about the
members anymore. Somewhere that went away."
Winnipeg Film Group executive director Cecilia Araneda (Cecilia Araneda)
"People say we aren't consulting and it's just not true," Araneda maintains. "We have an open door culture, we try to communicate that we have an open forum."
"Let's not self-censor, let's throw these audacious ideas on the table."
Araneda is also quick to point out that the media arts hub concept is in very conceptual stages. Further progress would require a major leap in the Winnipeg Film Group's private fundraising ability, a skill Araneda says government funders are already urging the film group to develop.
"Consistently what has happened is that people think we're much further ahead in the process than we are. Sure 15 million dollars could fall from the sky tomorrow, but the reality is there are applications and process that have to be made," she says.
"We have a long road of development before anything solidifies."