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Whistler fest sharpens dual edge

Fest Traveler: Whistler Film Festival 2012

Taking risks is part of the tradition in Whistler, both on and off the slopes, so when leaders at the Whistler Film Festival picked a new programming director this year, it seemed natural to hire a rebel who wasn’t afraid to fill the slate with attitude, angst and hipness.

Film and television veteran Paul Gratton got his start on the rep cinema circuit before moving into broadcast programming. He joined the Whistler team in June and has spent the past six months scouring the market for this year’s diverse lineup of pics, some which are certain to generate controversy.

“I kind of go for edge,” Gratton says with a chuckle. “It’ll be interesting to see if Whistler’s ready for it.”

With 75 films on the schedule, including 42 features, there was enough space for Gratton to leave his mark without straying too far from Whistler’s traditional selections, particularly awards hopefuls and local hidden gems.

Those titles are still present, with high-brow fare like British helmer Joe Wright’s “Anna Karenina” and Canadian director Michael McGowan’s “Still,” which opens the fest. There’s also a lively lineup of in-person discussions with industry figures including actor Daniel Radcliffe, “Twilight” screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg and actor-screenwriters Rashida Jones and Will McCormack. For the first time, Variety will present its annual 10 Screenwriters to Watch lineup in Whistler. The family-friendly GKids animation outfit will also be feted. But for every movie or discussion that stays on the path of mainstream fare, there seems to be one that breaks away.

Documentary “Meet the Fokkens” profiles elderly twin sisters who work in Amsterdam’s red-light district, while French-Canadian faux-doc “Fair Sex” (“Les Maneges humains”) follows a young woman who graduates film school before joining a traveling circus. The highlight is a single-take sex scene that Gratton says “seems to go on for half an hour” but marks a pivotal point in the story.

“If this doesn’t provoke discussion and discomfort from the audience,” says Gratton, “I don’t know what will.”

For those with a taste for horror films, the new Late Night Terrorfest program injects a B-movie spirit akin to Toronto’s Midnight Madness with titles like buzzworthy Canadian horror pic “American Mary,” directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska.

Part of Gratton’s objective was to define Whistler as a fest separate from the major draws of Toronto and Vancouver.

“I’m not a film academic, I’m a film buff, and that puts a slightly different spin on my approach,” he says.

Gratton has spent more than 30 years in the local film industry, starting at rep cinemas in Ottawa where he helped put “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” on the map in Canada. In the early ’80s he stepped into pay TV as programmer at fledgling movie networks Superchannel and First Choice.

But it was his instrumental role at the former Chum, and the launch of the Bravo cable channel in the 1990s, that Gratton says probably best reflects his approach to Whistler.

“When you look at Bravo, I paid for it with ‘Sex and the City,’ ” he says, noting that the channel was the Canuck home to HBO’s cable hit.

“I paid for the arthouse cinema with ‘Rocky Horror’ and ‘Cheech and Chong’ double bills.”

He admits that approach may have worked then, but it’s still unproven for Whistler, a factor that makes him more excited than nervous.

Canadian producer Tony Wosk says filmmakers appreciate Gratton’s passion, which has left a mark on the local film scene. Wosk has two pics at Whistler: rock doc “The Sheepdogs Have at It” and “Hit ‘n Strum,” a Canadian film akin to “Once.”

“Paul really is a cinephile, and while he has his own taste in films, he really gets behind them,” Wosk says. “He’s moving the festival in a great direction.”

HIGHLIGHTS

THURSDAY
All day: China Gateway for Film Script Competition
12:45 p.m. Keynote luncheon: Canadian Media Production Assn.’s Michael Hennessey
6 p.m. Screening: “Anna Karenina”
9 p.m. In Conversation & Trailblazer Award: Rashida Jones Followed by special presentation screening of “Celeste & Jesse Forever.”

FRIDAY
2 p.m. Panel: “More Bang in the Boom! The Global Nature of the VFX Process.” Panelists: Ara Khanikian, head of 2D/digital compositor, Rodeo Visual Effects Co.; Greg Holmes, co-founder & CEO, Image Engine Design; Gretchen Libby, exec in charge of biz development and global strategy, Industrial Light & Magic; Ray Feeney, CEO, RFX. Moderator: Warren Franklin, chair, Vancouver Section, Visual Effects Society
3:15 p.m. Panel: “A View From the Top”: Speakers: Edward Noeltner, president, Cinema Management Group; Michael Lewis, head of motion pictures, Amazon Studios; Michael Hennessy, president and CEO, CMPA. Host: Steven Gaydos, executive editor, Variety.

SATURDAY
1 p.m. Trailblazer in Animation Award: Eric Beckman, founder & CEO of Gkids Inc. At “The Painting” screening.
4 p.m. Variety’s 10 Screenwriters to Watch presser and discussion, with presentation of Variety Billion Dollar Screenwriter Award to Melissa Rosenberg. Host: Variety’s Steven Gaydos
7 p.m. Spotlight on Daniel Radcliffe. The “Harry Potter” star talks about the next phase of his career.
9:30 p.m. Special presentation: “Omerta.”

SUNDAY
10 a.m. Awards brunch
8 p.m. Closing Gala, World Premiere: “The Sheepdogs Have at It”

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