Whistler - Canada’s ‘Coolest Film Festival’ Wraps

I have just returned from a lovely and instructive time, my third year in a row, at Whistler.

It was 'cool' in all meanings of that term. Whistler itself is a cozy, comfortable BC Canadian town, a few hours drive up from Vancouver.

It is high in the mountains so it is frigid, but with the right clothes and knowing where one is going then no damage is done. I survived and treasure the memories of this year's event.

I bonded with longtime biz pals Kirk D'Amico of Myriad, Steve Gaydos of Variety and Jon Gerrans of Us distributor Strand Releasing. Shauna Hardy Mishaw, founder and Fest Head was, as always gracious and it was great fun to see her again.

The films were good and the 'film biz' panels relevant. I moderated one on New Distribution featuring Canadian companies discussing their outlook in the new digital cinema age.

There were some stars there and very comfortable presentations and panel discussions.

The Festival supplied the following items: BC-bred talent Jason Priestley discussed his directorial debut Cas & Dylan during a special In Conversation hosted by George Stroumboulopoulos.

Oscar winning actor Richard Dreyfuss joined Priestley for the Opening Gala presentation of Cas & Dylan, and discussed his starring role in the film and career highlights during a special Tribute event with Variety’s VP and Executive Editor, Steven Gaydos.

Oscar winner and star of this year’s box office hit Prisoners, Melissa Leo graced the Festival’s red carpets as Wff’s Luminary honoree.

Actresses Ali Liebert and Emily Hampshire were both honored as Wff’s Stars to Watch awards at this year’s Spotlight On event presented by Elle Canada.

I particularly enjoyed Gaydos' panel on screenwriting. Seven out of the Variety 10 Screenwriters To Watch were in Whistler to receive recognition and chat to Variety’s VP Steven Gaydos’s. Screenwriters included Andrew Dodge (Bad Words); Kieran Fitzgerald (Bambi); Morgan David Foehl (The Asset); Barbara Marshall (The Exorcism Diaries); Michael Mitnick (The Giver); Jonathan Tropper (One Last Thing Before I Go); and Canadian Elan Mastai (The F Word).

The Wff Audience Award went to Jason Priestley’s charming road movie Cas & Dylan, one of six contenders in the Borsos Competition for Best Canadian Feature which features a heart-warming turn by movie icon Richard Dreyfuss and another scene-stealing performance by Tatiana Maslany, who won Best Performance in a Borsos Competition film for the second year running.

The Wff Audience Award runner up went to The Grand Seduction, a Canadian comedy directed by Don McKellar and written by Ken Scott. The Wff Audience Award is a non-cash prize presented to the highest-rated film as voted by the audience.

"This was a transformative year for the Whistler Film Festival, audiences and critics alike responded extremely well to our industry Summit and incredible line-up of films - half of which were Canadian,” says Paul Gratton, Wff’s Director of Programming. “Audiences were more enthusiastic than ever before, cross border business was done, and the caliber of celebrities that graced our presence was incredible. Our two Academy Award winners, Richard Dreyfuss and Melissa Leo were beyond inspiring, and Jason Priestley’s directorial debut with Cas & Dylan was a hit among industry executives and the public. We are very excited to carry this success forward for Wff 2014.”

The Whistler Film Festival celebrated its 13th edition as one of Canada's leading festivals from December 4 to December 8 with an intimate five-day program of screenings, tributes, special events and industry initiatives. Wff showcased 84 films consisting of 42 features and 42 shorts on five screens in four theatres over five amazing days including 19 World Premieres, 19 Canadian Premieres, 1 English Canadian Premiere, 34 Western Canadian Premieres, 3 British Columbian Premieres, and 7 Whistler Premieres. 51% of the features and 60% of the short films were Canadian. Films from 14 countries were screened including Canada, USA, UK, China, Austria, France, Denmark, Iceland, Iran, Ireland, Brazil, Sweden, Latvia and Mexico. Total attendance, including industry insiders, was on par with 2012 despite venue changes at 9,494 attendees (9,964 in 2012), including 628 delegates (a 13% increase compared to 556 in 2012).

The Festival continued to support cinematic excellence and awarded $31,500 in cash prizes and commissions. The Husband, by director Bruce McDonald, won the coveted $15,000 Borsos Competition for Best Canadian Feature. The $1,000 Canadian ShortWork Award went to Anxious Oswald Greene, directed by Marshall Axani. The $500 ShortWork Student Award went to Backward Fall by Ubc student Andrew Pollins. The Mppia Short Film Award presented by Mppia and Creative BC was won by Nick Citton for The Future Perfect, and consists of a $15,000 cash prize plus up to $100,000 in production services.

Designed to facilitate international alliances and financial partnerships, Wff’s industry Summit program presented 20 interactive sessions that addressed a range of issues affecting the film, television and digital media industry including the second consecutive China Canada Gateway for Film® Script Competition, and Wff’s new Feature Project Lab and Aboriginal Filmmaker Fellowship. Sessions were complimented by networking opportunities including one-on-one meetings, roundtable sessions and receptions. Overall, Summit attendance was at 78% capacity with 1,331 attendees, representing a 20% increase over 2012 (1,112 in 2012). In addition to the scheduled meetings that took place during the Summit, there was again a notable increase in unscheduled meetings that took place outside of scheduled blocks proving the festival remains an important place for the industry to meet and do business. Industry guests came from Canada, the USA and China to participate, and included some of the top talent and executives in the business. Wff announced three Canadian film projects that will move into development with Chinese production financing. There were several other deal discussions that began at the Festival both with China and other international investors.

The Whistler Film Festival is supported by Telefilm Canada, the Province of British Columbia and the Resort Municipality of Whistler. Bell Media (CTV, Etalk, E!) is Wff’s lead partner. Wff is sponsored by Variety, Transcontinental Media (Elle Canada), the Directors Guild of Canada - British Columbia, Creative BC, American Airlines, Sorel, Christie, Zoom Audio Visual Networks, Promosa Management, Tourism Whistler, Whistler Blackcomb and the Westin Resort & Spa Whistler.

The Whistler Film Festival Society (Wffs) is a cultural charitable organization dedicated to furthering the art of film by providing programs that focus on the discovery, development and promotion of new talent culminating with a must attend festival for artists, the industry and audiences in Whistler. Wffs produces one of Canada’s leading film festivals and plays a leadership role in offering professional and project development programs for filmmakers.

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