Whistler Film Festival: Canadian Content Meets Kudos Contenders

Awards season syncs with emerging talents

The Whistler Film Festival, which dubs itself as Canada’s “coolest” film fest, may have just gotten a shade cooler. In time for its 15-year anniversary, the event has landed the Canadian premiere of Oscar hopeful “Carol” for opening night, Dec. 2.

Since industry vet Paul Gratton took the reins as the fest’s director of programming in June 2012, there’s been a snowball effect. That year, Whistler opened with Michael McGowan’s “Still Mine,” followed by Jason Priestley’s directorial debut, “Cas & Dylan,” starring Richard Dreyfuss and Tatiana Maslany.

The next year, Gratton scored a coup with the Western Canada premiere of “The Imitation Game.”

This year, “Carol” ups the ante once more. The period pic, directed by Todd Haynes, based on a Patricia Highsmith novel, is toplined by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.

“You can see the progression and you can see how the distributors are beginning to see the value of Whistler,” Gratton says. He adds that the fest’s timing, which is strategic in its proximity to awards season and a key point in film release schedules, is not inconsequential.

His vision for the future: “More and more of that.”

Among this year’s selections: eight features directed by women; the Canadian premiere of Robert Carlyle’s directorial debut, “The Legend of Barney Thomson”; Chet Baker biopic “Born to Be Blue” (pictured) with Ethan Hawke; Brian Helgeland’s “Legend”; “Trumbo” with Bryan Cranston; Patricia Sims’ William Shatner-narrated doc,“When Elephants Were Young”; and the world premiere of Frank Henenlotter’s first non-genre film, “Chasing Banksy.” Canadian thriller “Numb,” will close fest on Dec. 6.

Gratton wants Whistler to become a mini-Sundance for Canadian films, which account for about half the selections.

“I love that model of having the big American movies draw attention to a showcase where Canadian movies can shine,” he says.

As the festival has grown, it has been attracting more distributors and sales agents to the white peaks of the Canadian Rockies.

Expected industry guests this year include Voltage’s Nicolas Chartier, Radiant Films’ Mimi Steinbauer, Cineplex’s Michael Kennedy, Shoreline’s Morris Ruskin, along with other execs from the likes of Elevation Pictures, Mongrel Media, Shomi and Vimeo.

After 15 years, Whistler has become about more than just skiing. It means business.

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