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Whistler Film Festival ’07 Interview – “River” director Mark Wihak

River -- Playing at the 2007 Whistler Film Festival
by Jason Whyte

“River is a lyrical evocation of those life-changing friendships of youth –passionate, all consuming and as brief as summer. Stan and Roz live in a small city a long way away from anywhere. Stan has just finished university and is working on a novel; Roz has a dead-end job and roams the city with her camera. When Stan and Roz meet, they help to nurture each other’s artistic dreams and they discover what is possible - in friendship and in themselves.” Director Mark Wihak on “River” which screens at this year’s Whistler Film Festival (November 29th-December 2nd).

So you’re in a conversation with someone you haven’t met before at Whistler and they ask if you have a film in the festival. What do you tell them to get them to come see the movie? What’s your hook?

Allan King has been making films for 50 years and he’s one of the most important and influential figures in the history of Canadian film. Allan said of River, “It’s a wonderful film! I’ve never seen anything like it.” Perhaps you haven’t either.

Tell me a little bit about yourself and your background, and what led you to wanting to make films.

I grew up in Saskatchewan and when I started making films there wasn’t much in the way of a film industry in the province; making films was a bit of a quixotic pursuit. Indeed my first film was about a punk Don Quixote. I’ve lived in Montreal and in Toronto and made films in those cities and now I’m back in Regina and there’s a bubbling film industry and a vibrant independent filmmaking community.

I kind of fell into film, it wasn’t a conscious goal when I started out but I feel really lucky to be a filmmaker now. It suits me.

Tell me about how this production came together and how the film was made.

River came about because I couldn’t raise the money to produce another film whose script I’d been working on for several years. I really wanted to make a film. So River started out as a film I could make with a really low budget. I knew I wanted to make a film about the friendship between two young, aspiring artists. I wrote two character outlines, and then cast the parts.

The two people I ended up casting, Maya Batten-Young and Adam Budd were young filmmakers who hadn’t acted before. I spent 2 1/2 months with Adam and Maya developing the characters and a story outline, and then we shot it over 20 days with a five-person crew and a 15-page outline rather than a screenplay. The editor Vanda Schmockel and I spent about four months in the edit suite - this was a challenge to cut because of all the improvised dialogue and I think Vanda did amazing work - and the film had its debut in August 2007.

Out of the entire production, what was the most difficult aspect of making this film? Also, what was the most pleasurable moment?

I think the actors might say improvising dialogue and the editor might say editing a film with improvised dialogue and no transcriptions but for me the most difficult part was coming to the end of the project. This was the most creatively satisfying, enjoyable film experience I’ve ever had. It was a lot of work too but it never felt like work; I had such fantastic collaborators on this film. We had a wonderful summer working together, the actors, the crew and I, and Vanda and I had lots of fun in the edit suite and now we have this film to remind us of those experiences.

How has the film been received at other festivals or screenings? If this is your first festival, what do you think you will expect at the film’s screenings at Whistler?

We had a very good response at our debut at the Montreal World Film Festival. We received a glowing review from the Gazette, which called River “one of the gems of the festival” and the audience responses in Montreal, Regina and Calgary have been very positive. The film also received rave responses from two Canadian filmmaking legends, Allan King and Don Owen, which makes us feel we did something right.

If you weren’t making movies, what other line or work do you feel you’d be in?

Journalism, maybe.

If you could offer a nickel’s worth of free advice to someone who wanted to make movies, what nuggets of wisdom would you offer?

Nobody “lets” you make a film, the only person who can really say “no” to you is you. Stubbornness is one of the essential characteristics of filmmakers; if you really want to make a film– there is always a way. And films are a lot of work; if you’re going to go to all that trouble, make sure you’re making a film that really means something to you.

What do you love the most about the filmmaking business?

I leave out the “business” part. What I love about filmmaking is it gives me a structure for my experiences and interests and obsessions. And when you make a film and it means something to an audience, it makes them laugh or think or it touches them emotionally, that’s really satisfying.

A question that is easy for some but not for others and always gets a different response: what is your favourite movie of all time?

I really don’t have one. There are a number of films I love but none that is the favourite. A short list would include Paris, Texas; Gambling Gods & LSD; Sherman’s March; Naked; The Gleaners and I; Tree’s Lounge, Alexander Payne’s contribution to Paris je t’aime; Man with a Movie Camera; Stranger than Paradise; Double Life of Veronique; Jules et Jim; Monsieur Hire; Local Hero…loads more.

River is screening at this year’s Whistler Film Festival in Whistler Village, BC. For more information on the film’s screening times, point your browser to For more information on River, visit the film’s official website at – Jason Whyte,

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originally posted: 11/29/07 20:13:14
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