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Simon Pegg may have done some snowboarding in Whistler, but he’s yet to attend a film fest there. Lucky for him, Katharine O’Brien’s “Lost Transmissions,” in which he stars alongside Juno Temple, is making its Canadian debut to open the Whistler Film Festival, which runs Dec 4-8. Pegg is thinking of bringing his snowboard, just in case, but mainly he’s there for the fest. Anything else is a bonus.

“It’s such a beautiful part of British Columbia,” he says by phone from his home in the U.K. “And it’s lovely for us to be the opening film there for a little film like this, which is very much a low-budget affair. It’s such an auspicious festival and it’s all you can hope for when you make these smaller films.”

Although Pegg is known more for comedies, this film, which tackles the subject of mental health, isn’t one.

“That’s the sort of bed that I made myself, even though I didn’t necessarily set out to be specifically a comedy actor,” he says. “It’s something that when you do it, [that tends to be] where you stay, and many people can assume that’s [all] you do. So for Katharine to send me this script about such a serious subject, I was really chuffed.” Pegg also had a realization: He hadn’t made a film directed by a woman before. “It suddenly felt remiss to me.”
Pegg gained a much deeper understanding of the subject matter in the process of researching his role and getting to know the person on whom the film is based.

“Most people have a sort of idea of what schizophrenia is, [but] it’s completely mischaracterized in the mainstream public consciousness,” he says. “So it was really fascinating and challenging to get to play that role.”

But because something is a drama, doesn’t mean there isn’t comedy within it. “Even the most severe experiences have moments of comedy. When you see a person yelling on the street corner, you often think they’re just mad. They get put in that category of just being immediately disposed of, of being insane and invalid. But you know, that person was once a laughing, crying, loving human being. And still is. So it was important to communicate that and not to be just dour and serious.”

At the festival, Pegg will be honored with a Maverick Award. “It’s just all of my great loves combined into one: Being externally validated and getting to go snowboarding, I can’t think of a greater honor,” he jokes.

The festival will also spotlight Joe Pantoliano, who is attending with the western Canadian premiere of “From the Vine” and will receive a Career Achievement Award, and Chelsea Peretti, who is attending with her feature film debut, the world premiere of “Spinster.” Peretti will receive the Trailblazer Award.

The festival, which is in its 19th year, has evolved into somewhat of a launching pad, with 15 of this year’s 43 feature-length selections being world premieres. More than half of are Canadian, world or North American premieres.

Over the past seven years since industry veteran and noted cinemaholic Paul Gratton took over as its director of programming, the fest has matured from a fun and quirky regional film festival into a serious Canadian fest contender with its own essential niche, he says. It’s attracting significant Canadian distribution interest, with at least seven such distributors expected to be in attendance, Gratton says.

The Whistler Film Festival is the kind of event where you can either discover a film by a first-time filmmaker; a restored version of the 1982 film, “The Grey Fox”; or Canada’s entry in this year’s international film Oscars category, “Antigone,” directed by Sophie Deraspe. Or one see this year’s highest-grossing Canadian film, Emile Gaudreault’s “Compulsive Liar (Menteur).” Running alongside are Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman”; William Nicholson’s “Hope Gap” with Annette Bening and Billy Nighy; Tom Harper’s “The Aeronauts” with Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne; and even a film about female spies during WWII, “Liberté: A Call to Spy.” “The Cuban,” which stars Louis Gossett Jr. as a musician with dementia, is also screening.

This year’s fest will present 15 film awards, with more than $146,500 in cash and prizes.

The fest’s Content Summit will bring together industry members for conversations around film financing, crossing borders, best practices for equity and inclusions, digital distribution, marketing strategies, and more, with execs from Vice Media, Canadian Media Fund, Harold Greenberg Fund, eOne, Elevation Pictures, Telefilm, CMPA, CBC, and others in attendance.

The festival will close with a double billing of “Grosso’s Loveletters to Skateboarding: Canada” and “The Tony Alva Story.”