Guy Maddin pic wins for best Canandian feature

The Whistler Film Festival announced its award winners at a brunch held on Sunday. “Keyhole,” the latest pic from Winnipegger Guy Maddin, starring Isabella Rossellini and Jason Patric, won for Best Canadian Feature Film.

Unable to attend, Maddin accepted the award along with its $15,000 cash prize in a pre-written humorous speech declaring: “This has been my first virtual festival. I wish it didn’t have to be this way. Oh, how many times I’ve cracked my head on my monitor screen trying to dive into your company.” Next year, Maddin promised to “first to lurk beneath snowy boughs just outside fest headquarters,” before perhaps being “drawn out to socialize.” He warned festival goers to be careful as he can be a bit “sasquatchy.”

The jury selected Maddin’s film for its “inventiveness, audacity, and humor.” Amongst the six films in competition were “Cafe de Flore” by Jean-Marc Vallée and Philippe Falardeau’s “Monsieur Lazhar,” which is Canada’s official Oscar entry.

The New Voices International Feature Competition Award with its $10,000 cash prize went to Mexico’s Kyzza Terrazas for “Machete Language.”

Mark Ratzlaff’s short film pitch project, “Beauty Mark,” won over a $15,000 cash contribution and up to $100,000 of in-kind services. Director Ben Addelman took home the Documentary Award for his environmental pic, “Kivalina v. Exxon.”

The Mountain Culture Award went to Richard Boyce for “Rainforest: The Limit of Splendour.”

For its 11th year, the Whistler Film Festival partnered with Variety to celebrate film on top of the great white mountains, with Variety-sponsored honors going to Andy Serkis and Jay Baruchel.

The fest presented its inaugural spotlight award to Michael Shannon (“Revolutionary Road”) on Sunday. The actor, known for often portraying volatile and intense characters, has been recently in Vancouver shooting Zack Snyder’s superman pic, “Man of Steel.”

At the tribute, Shannon discussed his new pic, Sony Picture Classics’ “Take Shelter,” in which Shannon portrays a working-class family man who has terrifying dreams of an apocalyptic storm. The pic premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and picked up the Critics Week prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Shannon has had a prolific career with pics such as “Groundhog Day,” “Cecil B. DeMented,” “Vanilla Sky,” and “The Runaways.” However, he quipped, that the roles that he gets more recognized for are from “8 Mile” and “Bad Boys II.”

On the TV side, Shannon stars in Martin Scorsese’s HBO series, “Boardwalk Empire,” which is currently on its second season.

When asked what he thought of generally being seen as a character actor, Shannon jokingly shot back: “I don’t understand that. I’ve never seen an actor not play a character.” He quipped that while most actors try to play a character, they don’t always succeed.

Despite having a busy career these days, Shannon said that the top actors he’s known in Hollywood work harder than anyone – that being an actor can never be safe. “If you want to be successful, you have to be uncomfortable,” he said.

The fest’s first Trailblazer in Animation Award was awarded to Korean-American director Jennifer Yuh Nelson Saturday at an “In Conversation” event presented by Variety and moderated by executive editor, Steven Gaydos. Bringing to life “Kung Fu Panda 2″ for DreamWorks Animation catapulted Nelson into becoming the first woman to solely direct an animated feature from a major Hollywood studio – a process that took over three years. “Good thing I like pandas,” joked Nelson. As the pic was a huge box office success, “It’s hard to imagine Katzenberg ever letting you go,” said Gaydos.

In addition to her work as a director, Nelson has worked extensively as a storyboard artist on projects such as “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron,” “Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas,” “Madagascar” and “Kung Fu Panda.”

According to Nelson, the key to the success behind “Kung Fu Panda 2″ isn’t just the humor that Po embodies, but that he is a character that is “very sweet, emotional, and humble.” Nelson notes that this is a characteristic that also carries through Jack Black, who voices the quirky panda.

When asked if she sees today as the new golden age for feature animation, Nelson responded that she is particularly impressed by the great variety in animation. “One thing that’s really cool right now, specifically at DreamWorks, is that all the films are very different.” The focus isn’t on just making another movie that people would expect to see, she noted. “Each one of them is very different. They look different, they sound different, their tone is different, and being able to have the freedom to do that as opposed to trying to fit into a particular genre is wonderfully freeing.”

Also announced today at the awards brunch is a China Canada Competition that will give Canadian filmmakers a chance to woo Chinese production companies and one of the largest domestic film markets. Telefilm Canada will be working with China Film Group, China’s largest and most influential state-run film enterprise and the sole importer of foreign films in China, to create this co-production initiative.

The China Canada Script Competition will announce a call for submissions mid-year. A number of script synopses will be chosen and presented at the 2012 Whistler Summit where the scripts will be pitched to Chinese production companies who will choose projects they want to work on.

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