Whistler film festival snowballs

Event plans Sundance-like film institute

The Whistler Film Festival, which starts Thursday in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia, is planning a Sundance-like film institute as part of its ambitious plan to become one of the world’s top 10 fests.

Festival director Shauna Hardy Mishaw said the institute will offer intense training programs in the resort town of Whistler, which is a winding 90-minute drive north of Vancouver.

The concept has attracted strong backing from the Canadian government and British Columbia’s film and TV industry, which employs about 15,000 people and generates production revenues of more than $1 billion annually.

Mishaw expects a record 6,500 ticket sales for the fest’s three-day run — despite heavy snow early this week.

Screenings start Thursday with Denys Arcand’s “Days of Darkness,” the comedy that closed Cannes. Closing gala honors local filmmaker Atom Egoyan (“The Sweet Hereafter”), who presides over the Borsos Competition for local features.

Aside from Borsos, the 90-plus fest films fall into six categories: World Cinema, Documentary, Mountain Culture, Late Nite Series, Shortfest and a new Kidz Fest program.

A record 750 industryites — including execs from Hollywood, Europe and China as well as Canada — have registered for the four-day Filmmaker Forum that opens today, up from 590 last year. Jump shows that the fest’s change of direction is paying off, Mishaw said.

“We’re aiming at mid-level filmmakers, not at emerging talent. Whistler is the perfect place to bring together Canadian and international delegates to form new alliances and financial partnerships. We want to be one of the world’s top 10 fests.”