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Threading up the 2007 Whistler International Film Festival

Denys Arcand's Days of Darkness - Opening Gala at the Whistler Film Festival
by Jason Whyte

Being a proud Canadian and film festival aficionado, it even surprises myself to say that I have never been to Whistler Village, BC, let alone its annual film festival. Whistler is a major world winter holiday destination and will be placed on the map in 2010 when the Winter Olympics come to the small town and its nearby city of Vancouver.

My normal film festival duties take me to Victoria, Vancouver and (earlier this year) Austin, Texas, but there has always been something exciting about going to a place like Whistler. For one, I hear about it constantly when covering the Vancouver Film Festival, especially from local filmmakers who can’t wait to go back up there for the four day festival at the end of November.

Yes, four days. It’s a breakneck-speed, long weekend trip for a series of narrative films, documentaries and short subject films. I’m used to two-week festivals going rather quickly but this should go by in a blink.

“So is Whistler the Canadian Sundance,” I am asked on occasion? Well, not really. Both are major winter sport destinations but it ends about there. Sundance, as many know, starts at the beginning of the year and is the first (and arguably most important) outlet for American indie cinema. Whistler’s focus is more Canadian driven and focused on the surrounding climate. You’ll see a selection of some of the best Canadian cinema and a few foreign titles to go along with some rather awesome skiing documentaries. It’s just that Whistler and Park City are so thematically linked that the similarities can come up.

The Whistler Film Fest opens Thursday with Denys Arcand’s “Days of Darkness”, a film which didn’t screen at VIFF last month and thus is the British Columbia premiere. I for one am thrilled to see Arcand’s followup to “The Barbarian Invasions” which was one of my favorite films of 2003. “Darkness” is the concluding film in Arcand’s trilogy which includes “Barbarian” as well as “The Decline of the American Empire”. (And main star Diane Kruger is ridiculously beautiful, so you can be assured I’ll be getting a seat up close.)

The festival closes with the wonderfully entertaining “Steep”, which screened at this year’s VIFF and is filled with some jaw-dropping mountain footage to go along with fun and incisive commentary on the passion of skiing. The film is being distributed by Mongrel Media in early 2008, so if you miss the Sunday screening you will be able to see it in regular release (and PLEASE see it on the big screen!).

Inbetween the opening and closing films are roughly 40 feature length films and about the same amount in short feature programming, ranging from features such as Carl Bessai’s best film yet, “Normal”, “The Stone Angel” which opened this year’s VIFF and stars Ellen Burstyn, “Walk All Over Me” starring Leelee Sobieski (attending this year) and Michael Eklund, Jonathan Demme’s docu “Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains” and “Emotional Arithmetic” starring Christopher Plummer.

There are also many filmmaking forums, a celebrity ski challenge and a few parties to be had in the meantime, and all events and film venues are very close together to give the festivalgoer quick and easy access. One particular event this Saturday is the Celebrity Ski Challenge, which groups all of the attending filmmakers and actors to test their ski abilities. I’ll say this much: I’m most likely the worst skier in the world, so I am proud of you all already.

Keep an eye out for a few interviews over the next couple of days, and a brief wrap-up article to be posted next week on my first-time experiences in Whistler Village.

I have only brushed the surface here. For more information on the Whistler Film Festival, point your browser to whistlerfilmfestival.com. A very special thanks to Bruce Saunders of Movie Monday (www.islandnet.com/mm), a weekly film series in Victoria, BC, for getting me to Whistler. Also thanks to Kevin Dale McKeown and Kate Perkins up at Whistler for assistance with this article.


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=2308
originally posted: 11/29/07 20:44:16
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