Whistler: Ingrid Veninger’s ‘Ballsy’ Request? More Films Made by Women

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After five days of screening, industry panels, and tributes to the likes of Richard Dreyfuss, Melissa Leo, and Jason Priestley, the 13th annual Whistler Film Festival culminated in an awards brunch on Sunday morning.

At the awards, the New York-based Alliance of Women Film Journalists presented two EDA awards for women filmmakers, with the Narrative Feature prize going to Toronto’s Ingrid Veninger for “The Animal Project,” which sets a group of struggling actors, each wearing a full body animal suit masking their identity, on an emotional voyage of self discovery.

While accepting her award, visibly moved, Veninger also took the opportunity to announce a new writing program for Canadian female screenwriters and directors that she will be launching through her production company, pUNK Films. In a bold move, Veninger proceeded to rally the audience for a $6,000 donation to the program.

“I know this is a ballsy request,” she said, “but I would like to see more feature films made by women. Who can donate $6,000 for six features?”

That’s when Oscar winner Leo stepped up to the plate. “I’ll do it!,” she yelled out, raising from her seat.

The EDA Award for Best Female-Directed Documentary went to Oscar-nominee Lucy Walker’s “The Crash Reel,” with a special mention to Alanis Obomsawin for “Hi-Ho Mistahey!,” about a Cree teenager and her efforts to lobby for improved educational opportunities for First Nations youth.

The festival’s prestigious Borsos Award for Best Canadian Feature Film went to Bruce McDonald’s “The Husband,” a darkly comedic drama about a man (Maxwell McCabe-Lokos) who struggles to raise a child while his wife is imprisoned for having an affair with a minor.

The Borsos Jury commented, “We were drawn in by this film’s original premise, the unpredictable turns of its narrative, and the natural harmony between the story’s unhinged protagonist and the director’s jagged visual style. This is a provocative drama that turns the tables on domestic conflict and made us richly uncomfortable.” Celebrating its 10th year, the award carries a $15,000 cash prize, the second largest in Canada.

For the second year in a row, Tatiana Maslany took WFF’s Best Performance in a Borsos Competition Film Award — this time for her role in Priestley’s feature film debut, “Cas & Dylan,” also starring Dreyfuss.

The WFF World Documentary Award was awarded to Mitchell Kezin’s “Jingle Bell Rocks!,” a personal look at the director’s obsession with Christmas tunes.

Variety’s executive editor Steven Gaydos also presented Variety’s 10 Screenwriters to Watch, with seven screenwriters in attendance: Ned Benson (“The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby”), Lucinda Coxon (“Crimson Peak”), Andrew Dodge (“Bad Words”). Kieran Fitzgerald (“Bambi”), Morgan David Foehl (“The Asset”), Jennifer Lee (“Frozen”), Barbara Marshall (“The Exorcism Diaries”), Michael Mitnick (“The Giver”), Jonathan Tropper (“One Last Thing Before I Go”), and Elan Mastai (“The F Word”).

The awards ceremony concluded with an announcement of funding secured to renovate the fest’s main venue, the Rainbow Theatre. The Resort Municipality of Whistler and Tourism Whistler will pitch in $540,000 for the upgrade, with another $160,000 from the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation towards a digital cinema system.