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Threading Up the 2009 Whistler Film Festival

"The Trotsky" with Jay Baruchel - Opening Whistler Film Festival '09!
by Jason Whyte

One year shy of its tenth birthday, the annual Whistler Film Festival in Whistler Village, BC, is steadfastly growing into one of the largest film festivals in Canada. Everything about it, from its beautiful location, its attraction to filmmakers and actors to the excellent programming makes it a unique and memorable experience to view film. It is also just a few months away from when the planet populace descends on the village for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s all about the movies this weekend.

I have the wonderful opportunity to travel back to Whistler this week to partake in the four days of film screenings, panels, parties and brunch, likely in that order. Having attended since 2007 I find the festival, located entirely in the village, by far the best festival in the world to work your way around by foot and get to where you are going in a matter of minutes. No shuttles, no timing busses or looking for a taxi; everything is right there within walking distance, all for the taking.

That said, be sure to keep some good walking shoes or boots handy. It’s a bit cold up there.

The 2009 edition of the festival kicks off Thursday night at the Whistler Conference Center with the Canadian film “The Trotsky” from director Jacob Tierney. Set in Montreal, the film stars Jay Baruchel playing a character who is the reincarnation of Soviet iconoclast Leon Trotsky who originally hailed from the 20th century. This causes an impact on the school he attends and the folks around them; among them are a few solid supporting actors including Emily Hampshire (“A Problem With Fear”) to Colm Feore (“Bon Cop Bad Cop”) provide support. Hey, I didn’t quite “get” the description for “Gentelmen Broncos” before seeing that opening night film at Fantastic Fest either, so I’m just going to go with “The Trotsky” at the opening gala and just see what happens.

Closing the festival on Sunday night, also at the Conference Centre, is “The Edge of Never”, a documentary that is about the powerful world of skiing and the small groups of people who challenge the biggest, baddest mountains in the world. One of the primary characters is the son of legendary skier Trevor Petersen, a Whistler based skier who died in 1996 and the doc focuses on his son’s journey to travel the same mountains his father skied on. This great looking documentary, directed by William Kerig, just seems kind of fitting for this festival, doesn’t it?

There is no shortage of great films at this year’s Whistler Film Festival. It is such a terrific lineup this year. From foreign films, documentaries, short subject to a large Canadian selection, it will be a pretty busy time for attendees, including this writer who will be at many screenings over the long weekend.

One film that I can’t recommend enough is Michael Paul Stephenson’s wonderful documentary “Best Worst Movie”. Here is a film that I saw back at South by Southwest Film Festival this March and is an endlessly entertaining, hilarious documentary that still works even if you haven’t seen Troll 2 (although it does help). Stephenson, who played Joshua in the film almost twenty years ago, directs his experiences with the cult phenomenon that Troll 2 has had over the course of two decades. There are many elements to the film that make it great – the fan reaction, where the cast is now, the insanity of the Italian film crew, the overseas reception – but what sets the film apart is the character study of George Hardy, the film’s main subject who is now a dentist in Alabama. I wish I was making this up. You can read my full review HERE. The screening takes place at 9:15 at the Whistler Village 8 cinemas, and there might be a surprise few guests in attendance. It is the place to be, I promise.

Other best bets at the festival include:

“A Single Man”; Tom Ford’s debut feature stars Julianne Moore, Matthew Goode and Colin Firth and was a huge hit at the Toronto Film Festival this year. There is serious Oscar talk for the actors as well as Ford.

“Chloe”: I saw Atom Egoyan’s new film at VIFF and have mixed feelings about it. The overall reaction seemed to be divided. On the one hand, I was impressed with the visual beauty and solid direction; one of Egoyan’s finest, at least. On the other hand, the film’s pulpy story seems ripped right out of a Harlequin novel, to the point where it’s just pretty trashy to watch. Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore and the gorgeous Amanda Seyfried star.

“Last Train Home”, which was just announced for Sundance, is a Canadian documentary on millions of migrant workers in China who make a long journey from the cities to the country to celebrate the Lunar New Year with their families.

“Passenger Side”: I have been waiting to see this film since the filmmakers started following me from their Twitter page. It looks like a great road movie featuring a middle-aged character who refuses to grow up, aided by a killer looking soundtrack (among them: Wilco, Leonard Cohen, Dinosaur Jr.) I’m there.

“A Town Called Panic”: This was the film that won the Audience Award at Fantastic Fest this year. I attended and covered the festival in Austin yet have still not seen the film. This crazy looking animated film from Belgiu -- which features plastic toys and a bizarre color palette -- just couldn’t fit into my Austin schedule this September. Oh, and it played Cannes. I would like to thank the Whistler Film Festival for giving me a second chance.

“A Gun To The Head”: Blaine Thurier, who is forever my hero for being the legendary drummer to The New Pornographers (sir, please don’t pull a Billy Bob on me. I just worship you, sir!) has created a film that the festival description reads as “Part buddy movie, part sex comedy, A Gun To The Head is a tale of compulsive poor-decision making”. I can relate, so thus I am sold. I’ll be at the screening.

“I Killed My Mother”: Not exactly the greatest Mother’s Day movie ever made, instead this is Xavier Dolan’s debut feature which features a legendary performance by Anne Dorval and is all about the strange relationship between mother and son. Features a scene with Dorval on the phone that is worth the price of a ticket alone, and earned huge applause at the screening I attended at the Vancouver International Film Festival in October.

(These are just a few of the many great looking movies playing at the fest. For more selections, check out the film guide on the Whistler Film Fest site.)

For those film fans in the Greater Vancouver, the Whistler Film Festival is an ideal long weekend getaway. The recently renovated Sea-to-Sky highway is a direct shot from North Vancouver and is just under a two hour drive. Come up on Thursday, head back Sunday, it’s all good.

The first few weeks of December is still off-season, so a good hotel room can be had in the village for about $100-120 a night. Add to that, the slopes are not terribly busy (although it is good to plan ahead) and there are tons of great restaurants and fun food spots – my favorite being Zog’s Dogs sausage poutine on the main walk – to keep one entertained inbetween shows.

It should also be mentioned that there’s a bit of snow at this time of year. I don’t know exactly what the conditions are like at press time, but you can point your browser HERE for the most up to date conditions. If you’re not driving, the Greyhound bus service runs about every two hours and you can jump on right on West Georgia street in downtown Vancouver.

For those of you returning this year, the Whistler Village 8 cinemas have added another screen for festival screenings, now utilizing 3 of its 8 auditoriums. The Rainbow also closed this year, but in its place will be two screening rooms at the Whistler Conference Centre. I consider this a good thing as both screens will have high definition and comfortable seats, something that was a bit lacking at the Rainbow. And it must be noted that there will be a bar at this venue. Can’t beat that.

Watch for reviews, photos and other notes in the coming days on this year’s Whistler Film Festival. For more information on the festival, screening times, parties, panels and updates, point your browser to whistlerfilmfestival.com.

Be sure to follow instant updates of Whistler Film Fest on my Twitter @jasonwhyte!
(Tweeting at thousands of feet in the air…yep, I do it for the movies.)

Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=2890
originally posted: 12/03/09 19:01:56
last updated: 12/03/09 19:02:49
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