Peter Vamos ready to welcome industry execs

MONTREAL —Given its laid-back atmosphere and oh-so-scenic setting nestled in the heart of the Rockies in one of the most beautiful spots in Canada, it is easy to think of the Banff World Television Festival as a couple of days of much-needed rest and relaxation for harried TV executives.

Yet there’s much more to the confab than that, notes recently installed executive director Peter Vamos.

Between 1,000 and 1,400 industryites from Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere will be descending on this tiny resort town about 90 minutes north of Calgary for this year’s 30th annual fest, which runs June 7-10. As usual, there will be plenty of business deals started and some even completed in the bars, hallways and rooms of the Banff Springs Hotel.

Some $650 million worth of business has been initiated or completed at Banff since the venerable Canuck TV fest was taken over by Achilles Media in 2004.

“If you didn’t have Banff, it would take you a year to do all that work,” says Vamos, who, prior to joining the event, was publisher of Canada’s leading film and TV trade paper, Playback. “A lot of the shows that you see now on the Canadian airwaves are from deals that were done at Banff.”

Judith Brosseau, senior VP of programming at Montreal-based broadcaster Astral Media and chair of the Banff board, says it’s Banff’s too-gorgeous setting that helps set the dealmaking in motion.

“It’s a moment in the year when the creme de la creme of the television world comes together,” Brosseau says. “What’s great is the informal aspect of the place. It’s not a city, and you’re in the mountains. That’s why it’s a fertile place for deals.”

Brosseau points to the Canadian docu series “Insectia,” a Canadian-French co-production that was broadcast on Astral-owned Canal D, as an example of a hit show that came to life directly from discussions at Banff several years back. The look at the insect world went on to be sold to broadcasters in 150 countries.

As usual, this year’s Banff will feature a slew of top-drawer talent from the TV biz, including a master-class speaker series featuring “Lost” exec producer Jack Bender, “The New Adventures of Old Christine” exec producer Kari Lizer, “Law & Order” writer and exec producer (and former Montrealer) Rene Balcer and “Battlestar Galactica” exec producer Ronald D. Moore.

Nickelodeon/MTVN Kids and Family Group animation president Brown Johnson will deliver the keynote address at the inaugural Kids & Animation Day. Fox Interactive Media senior VP Ron Berryman will deliver the Banff-nextMEDIA Crossover keynote address June 7.

Several prizewinners have already been announced, with actor and writer Mark Mc-Kinney set to receive the Sir Peter Ustinov Award, Toronto-based producer Shaftesbury Films will nab the Lionsgate/Maple Pictures Innovative Producer Award, and actor Victor Garber will be given the Cineflix Award of Excellence.

Lionsgate topper Jon Feltheimer has been set to accept the Variety Outstanding Achievement Award for the studio’s TV division, home to Emmy-winning drama “Mad Men,” which is in production for season three.

The Banff World Television Awards, aka the Rockies, will be doled out at a gala ceremony June 8.

With the TV milieu reeling from the double whammy of the economic downturn and the radical reshaping of the traditional TV biz model, Banff is attempting to be even more user-friendly and encourage a lot of dealmaking.

“We’ve narrowed the conference down a bit, and we’ve expanded things like the pitching sessions,” Vamos says. “For the last four years, since Achilles took over, the focus has been on doing more deals.”

It’s unclear if the sluggish economy is going to have a negative impact on attendance, but what Vamos has already noticed is “that there are fewer tire-kickers. People coming are coming to do business.”

He also figures there might be a bit more Yank interest in the event this year given that Canada for the first time is beginning to produce a number of primetime dramas for U.S. networks, including “Flashpoint” (CBS) and “The Listener” (NBC).

But in spite of all the talk of hatching deals and mega networking, Banff chair Brosseau admits that although “it’s a place for business and learning, it’s also nice to have a drink in the mountains.”

Indeed.

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