Whistler 09 Wrap Up

Todd Brown, Founder and Editor
[Our thanks to Andrew David Long for the following wrap up of the 2009 Whistler Film Festival.]

Whistler itself is a gorgeous destination, world-famous for skiing and mountain biking, and the Whistler Film Festival (WFF) largely concerns itself with discovering new, independent voices.  On those points alone, it's hard to avoid thinking of Sundance, a comparison that can't really be made.  Now in its ninth installment, Whistler remains a very intimate festival and is still potentially in the early stages of its development.

Opening Night is at the Whistler Conference Centre, which is licensed, so many of the screenings there are rather more festive. Though the opening speeches are on the long side, the crowd is still happy.  While I'm wary of converted screening spaces, the digital projection there is mercifully very good. Back at the hotel, I stare again at the screening schedule and rue the fact that everything screens only once.

Suffice it to say, these few days in Whistler can be packed.  WFF is a brief festival with only 4 days of screenings and some titles I really want to see conflict with other titles I really want to see.  There's also a very fine industry series as part of WFF that has substantial involvement especially from the Vancouver film and media industry which I won't have time to check out this year.  44 Inch Chest and Best Worst Movie conflict with each other and with numerous Friday parties. Also, the tribute to Ivan Reitman conflicts with Panique au village, which I was unable to screen in the library. (Reitman is in fine form, a load of fun to listen to, and relatively tight-lipped about Ghostbusters III and his other several dozen works in development.  Happily he also takes the reins as needed from interviewer Terry David Mulligan, whose handling of last year's tribute to Donald Sutherland verged on disastrous.)

The Films:
In Stacey Donen's first year as Artistic Director, the programming has taken a big step forward.  There's a lot this year that I'm very excited about, and even when I consider the films I personally wouldn't have screened, I can still absolutely understand why they're in the lineup, which is a great indicator of a clear programming vision.  It's all the more welcome when you consider that in their desire to focus on new and unique filmmaking voices, Whistler's programming takes some very brave risks along with bringing in some already hot titles.  The only apparent identity glitch stems from the Mountain Culture focus, a local necessity that feels a little apart from the rest of the programming.  That's not to say there aren't fine films in that stream.  WFF shuns the ski porn and tries to emphasize a unique perspective on life at high altitudes.  The premise alone of the closing film, the documentary The Edge of Never, is chilling: fifteen-year-old Kye Petersen is urged and trained by his deceased father's friend to ski the run that took his father's life.

Shorts: many festivals that focus on features fall flat on shorts, but Whistler does a pretty fine job.  I didn't get to see all of them, and didn't get to see the shorts programs in sequence, and so I haven't written much about them.  The pairing of shorts with features is done with a keen sense of suitability.  The shorts programs themselves contain some gems, though there are a few pieces that suggest that the programming vision of shorts is a little looser than on the feature side, and that expectations are sometimes lower.  I hope that as WFF grows and has more shorts to choose from, that gap may close.  Among the shorts, last year's winner of Whistler's MPPIA pitch contest, Steven Deneault, used the production package and cash he won to create the gorgeous 20-minute Victorian-era piece The Gray Matter, which could perhaps do with trimming a couple of minutes for pacing, but is a very accomplished piece.  Other shorts highlights include (but are certainly not limited to) Big Head (Dylan Akio Smith making full use of the Worldwide Short Film Festival's Screenplay Giveaway prize), Jason Eisener's seasonal horror Treevenge, and Oscar-winner Chris Landreth's latest, The Spine.  For Sci-fi chuckles, the time/space bender Riboflavin is good fun.

Add in the outdoor screenings, the Celebrity Challenge ski race and a host of parties, and it's a damn fun festival.

Pack warm clothes, and be prepared for mandatory coat-checks at several local night spots.  Since all of the festival's activities are in the ski village, almost every night you're going to see loads of tipsy revelers roaming the lanes, many clad in tank tops in sub-freezing temperatures.  Don't emulate this unless you're from the far north.  These people are welcome atmosphere.  They're also nuts. 

This year's Borsos Competition Jury was Ivan Reitman, Jessica Paré, and Niv Fichman.  Award Winners from WFF 2009 are listed here and include Woody Harrelson for Defendor, and two prizes for Sophie Deraspe's Les signes viteax (Vital Signs).

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