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The Whistler Film Festival: Sundance of the North

This December the Whistler Film Festival marked its 10th anniversary, screening over 80 films from around the world.

The Whistler Film Festival Society is a charitable cultural organization which dedicates itself to connecting the art and business of film. It is one of the most popular, inviting, and widely respected film festivals in Canada, drawing a multitude of local and international celebrities.

When I was offered a chance to attend the first few days of the festival, it was an opportunity that couldn't be passed up: the WFF is one of the most highly anticipated film festivals in Canada set in one of the most beautiful and magical places on earth: Whistler, British Columbia.

The last time I'd been there, in fact the last time I'd come anywhere close to snow, was years ago when a friend and I drove up the antiquated and extremely dangerous, winding Sea to Sky highway one Easter weekend, dressed as rabbits, broke, and on a dare to see if they'd let us ride the slopes in exchange for a little free advertising: it worked, but then, that's Whistler.

We packed a bag, hopped into the car, and raced out of the city as fast as we could. The journey was like waiting for Christmas morning to come. It just couldn't happen fast enough.

On the way up it was surprising to see how clear and wide and comparatively straight the roads were. What had once upon a time taken a minimum of two hours, spiked tires, and nerves of steel, now took less than an hour and a half, one-handed driving (not recommended), on all season tires (not recommended either).

It was incredible. The drive there alone was well worth the trip. At one point we had to stop at the side of the road and get out just to take in the scenery around us. How the blazes have we lived in this paradise of paradises all these years and not come up here every weekend.

Arriving at the hotel, we threw our bags in the room and dove into the festival head first.

The evening got under way with a filmmaker's meet and greet followed by the gala screening of Mike Goldbach’s DAYDREAM NATION. The film ended to an uproar of applause and the room buzzed with energy.
Jon Joffin's stunning cinematography and a remarkable cast set the bar high for the films to come. Many of the cast and crew were at hand to talk and answer questions.

The following day hosted a number of panels and info sessions followed by a series of screenings and gatherings that set the tone for the rest of the week. One film that stood out was Derek Cianfrance's BLUE VALENTINE, starring Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling. Though I knew plenty about Williams' work, I can't say I'd seen any of Gosling's. This film made it very clear why he's considered one of Hollywood's biggest rising stars.
The story was amazing and fresh, and the performances from Williams and Gosling were raw and moving.

Late night and the room filled yet again for a midnight screening of John Zaritsky's cult classic documentary SKI BUMS, which was the first film to ever screen at the Whistler Film Festival back in 2001. Several of the people in the film were in attendance and happily set up the film for us new comers.
The room continued to erupt with cheers and enthusiastic outbursts for the duration of the film. Whistler may have changed over the past ten years but clearly the sentiment towards the place has not.

It was a shame to have to leave just as the festival was beginning, as the line-up of special guests was impressive and the warmth of the festival very inviting.

Guests this year included actors Callum Keith Rennie, David Richmond-Peck (Robson Arms), Bittany Bristow (Sophie), Agam Dashi, Lynne Stopkewich, Julia Kwan, Reece Thompson (Daydream Nation), and Patrick Gallagher (Glee), directors Paul Zaritsky (Leave them Laughing), Michael Goldbach (Daydream Nation), Dany Papineau (2 Frogs in the West), Michael Greenspan (Wrecked), Karysa Kodracki (The Whistleblower), and Ronn Mann, producers Christine Haebler, Elizabeth Yake, and TV host George Stoumboulopoulos (The Hour).  

The one consolation to leaving so early, however, was the picturesque road trip back.
Whistler, with any luck, we'll be back again next year.

Some of the Whistler Film Festival awards highlights:

. THE WHISTLEBLOWER (dir. Larysa Kondracki) – $15,000 Borsos Competition for Best New Canadian Feature Film, presented by the Directors Guild of Canada – BC District Council and supported by Telefilm Canada. The award recognizes films that embody the spirit of independent filmmaking in Canada.
. ATTENBERG (dir. Athina Rachel Tsangari) – Whistler's New Voices International Feature Competition
. MARWENCOL (dir. Jeff Malmberg) Best Documentary
. 2 FROGS IN THE WEST (dir. Dany Papineau) Best Mountain Culture Film   VIA GORI (dir. George Barbakadze) Best Shortwork award
 IRRADIATE (dir. Julia Hutchings) Best Student Shortwork
JOANNA MAKES A FRIEND (dir. Jeremy Lutter) MPPIA Short Film Award

The Whistler Film Festival was presented by American Express, and sponsored by the Directors Guild of Canada – BC, Whistler Brewing Company, The Vancouver Sun, and Whistler Blackcomb, and is supported by Telefilm Canada, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Film, British Columbia Film and the Resort Municipality of Whistler.

For more information go here.

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