Canadian author Malcolm Gladwell writes that every idea has a “Tipping Point”, and that ideas can spread like viruses. Gladwell hypothesizes that everything from rumours to crime rates to sudden increases in shoe sales will have a tipping point, a moment of critical mass or a threshold where those ideas converge and take off. For the Whistler film community that tipping point was late fall 2001, when Shauna Hardy Mishaw and Kasi Lubin started the Whistler Film Festival.
Showcasing 13 Canadian films in what was then a one-screen town, the inaugural Whistler Film Festival drew an audience of over 1300 viewers. That small fest ignited something in Whistler however, as just five months later the World Ski & Snowboard Festival introduced the 72-Hour Filmmaker Showdown–a contest of run-and-gun guerrilla film making. Six months after that Heavy Hitting Films held the first B-Grade HorrorFest, another local-talent incubator. The tipping point tipped that year and suddenly Whistler was a movie town.
The next year Shauna added more films and an industry forum and by 2004 the WFF had expanded sufficiently to hire a programming director and entice larger sponsors. “We got more defined,” Shauna explains, “and decided what we wanted to do was establish Whistler as a destination to connect business and film.”
Now, just days away from the opening curtain of its 14th birthday the Whistler Film Festival boasts 87 films from 18 countries and is respected industry wide as a champion of Canadian cinema and a festival that perfectly nails the mix of business and pleasure.
LEFT: Shauna Hardy.
“The festival is short and sweet,” Shauna says, adding that the idea has been to keep the Whistler Film Festival smaller, more intimate and more industry-focused than other Canadian festivals like Toronto or Vancouver. “You watch films after skiing and it’s laid back and intimate. Everything is close together and we have top people from Canada, LA, even China coming here to meet and do business but also to connect with the audience and each other. It’s a great way to showcase the industry in BC.”
It’s also a lot of fun. Whistler locals voted the fest “Best Arts and Cultural Event” in 2013 and this year there's a lot of buzz about the caliber of films coming to town. “It’s about adding character to Whistler,“ Shauna explains. She first arrived in Whistler for “just a weekend” back in 1991 and moved up the next week. Now married with two children, she’s also acted as executive producer for 22 local short films under the Whistler Stories program, giving many Sea to Sky filmmakers (including Insider editor Feet Banks and WFF regular Peter Harvey), their first paid directing gigs.
“We know we have great characters here,” Shauna says, “and it’s cool to bring people to this special town. The Whistler community is very unique and generous and there is a relentless can-do spirit. That is how we were able to get the Olympics and with that same spirit and the right global partners we can become one of the preeminent film festivals on the planet.”
Almost a decade and half in, the Whistler Film Festival also has a new home base, and a cutting-edge digital projector, in the newly renovated Rainbow Theatre. "If we want to be one of the best fests in the world we need this technology,” Shauna says. As the Whistler Film Festival’s reputation grows, perhaps this is another of those Tipping Point years. Or maybe not, but in any case, it will be a heck of a show.
Hot Tips for WFF- The Insider’s Top 5 Picks
Ideally we could all just clone ourselves and hit up every film and event at the Whistler Film Festival (then “mindmeld” all that awesomeness back into our original brain) but since reality has yet to catch up to Sci-Fi we are still bound by the parameters of the current Time-Space continuum. As such, here are five must-hit events and flicks.
1. Peter Harvey’s Movies
Peter Harvey is a local Whistler kid who moved to Toronto to become a big time movie guy, and totally did! As a producer he comes home and screens his work at WFF each year (he even won the prestigious Borsos Competition in 2012 for Picture Day) and this year Pete has two films in the festival.
Pretend We’re Kissing is one of those indie-darling comedies, “shot very Woody Allen-esque,” Pete says, it will be a crowd favourite. Backcountry is a based-on-true tale about a camping trip where everything that can go wrong does, including a giant grizzly bear. As a bonus, all the bear scenes were shot down the road in Squamish. Pretend We're Kissing screens Friday December 5, 2014 at 8:30 PM and Saturday December 6, 2014 at 5:30 PM, both at the Village 8 Cinemas.Backcountry screens Friday December 5, 2014 at 7:30 PM and Sunday Dec 7, 2014 at 1 PM, both at the Whistler Conference Centre.
LEFT: Peter Harvey. MIDDLE: Playing on Set. RIGHT: The Poster.
2. Celebrity Challenge Ski Race
Not all the action occurs on screen at the WFF and it wouldn’t be Whistler without some on-hill excitement. This event requires pre-registration but anyone can show up to watch and cheer. Will Jason Priestly be able to out-ski local Olympian Mike Janyk? Probably not, but it’s all in good fun and day on the mountain is a good day. The Celebrity Challenge Ski Race takes place Saturday December 6, 2014. 10 AM — 12 PM on Whistler Mountain.
3. WFF Music Café
It’s no secret that music is an integral part of cinema and this year the WFF is bringing music into the foreground with this awesome daylong event designed to showcase British Columbian musicians and connect attendees with music supervisors and insiders. Plus, Vancouver indie-electro-pop dance duo, HUMANS close the show.
The WFF Music Café happens Saturday December 6, 2014 from 1 PM – 5 PM at Garfinkel's Nightclub.
4. Q&A Sessions
“I love being able to ask filmmakers ‘How’d you do that?,’” says Whistler actress Sharai Rewels. "So the Q&A sessions held after so many of the films are definitely favourites.”
Sharai adds that she’s stoked to see Peter Harvey (see above) and is also definitely hitting up Mountain Men, a survival comedy set in the Rocky Mountains. Director Cameron Labine will answer all Sharai's (and your) questions at the post-screening Q&A. Mountain Men screens Thursday December 4, 2014 at the Rainbow Theatre.
5. Shortworks Showcase hosted by Crazy 8’s
Full disclosure: Whistler Insider editor Feet Banks is hosting this event but regardless, short films are where the stars of tomorrow cut their teeth and where up and comers get to stretch their cinematic muscles. This showdown features a collection of alumni from Vancouver’s highly regarded Crazy 8’s film community. With shorts on everything from jogging to goldfish to a bedbugs musical, this one is a sure hit.
The Shortworks Showcase takes place Saturday December 6, 2014 at 8 PM at Garfinkel's Nightclub.
LEFT: WFF Gala. RIGHT: Local actress Sharai Rewels.
6. (Bonus) The Parties
It’s wouldn’t be a true Whistler event without a plethora of fantastic parties and posh soirées . The Opening and Closing Galas are just the tip of the iceberg too so keep your eyes open and your ear to the ground.Vive le Cinéma!
The Whistler Film Festival runs December 3-7 2014 and is going to be the best one yet. Get tickets, accommodations and more info at Whistler.com