Opinion » Alta States

Angie' s world — celebrating Whistler culture one story at a time

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'The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance."

- Aristotle

She's just so approachable. So totally unpretentious. "I am what I am," says her smile. "Nothing more, nothing less." And it works every time. She's the kind of person who can make a total stranger feel like a pal within minutes of their first meeting. So entirely up-front — so completely in the moment — that she inspires unquestioning trust in both colleagues and friends.

She's the girl next door. The easy-going chum who's up for any adventure. And she doesn't back down. When she says she's going to do something, it gets done.

Which in her line of work comes in mighty handy. Hmm... let me qualify that statement. To call what she does "work," implies some form of payment. And while Whistler actor/filmmaker/writer/director Angie Nolan derives much pleasure — and much emotional re-enforcement — from her multitudinous artistic endeavours in this valley, her financial returns are... hmm, how can I put this?... minimal.

Which is about par for artists in this town. For all the big talk about the importance of culture and art in a maturing Whistler, the delivery of funds to resident creative types has been well short of sustainable in recent years. And yet these same artists keep on producing quality stuff to wide acclaim. Locals here figure that Whistler-based comedians, actors, musicians — they just love performing for free. They must, goes the thinking. Otherwise, why would they keep doing it?

Case in point. I don't know how Angie Nolan keeps it together at this time of the year. A perennial favourite in the WSSF's wildly popular 72-hour Filmmaker Showdown — "I've experienced every scenario there is," she says. "From being a finalist to winning and from being late handing the film in to having technical blow-outs at the last minute" — Angie is probably already honing her strategy for next week's assault on the title. Meanwhile, she's directing GD Maxwell's always —entertaining Chairlift Review. Which, by the way, runs during that same festival.

OK, so "directing" may be understating her role a bit in that chaotic bit of absurdist theatre. Re-writing skits, coaching the neophytes, nursemaiding the vulnerable and/or modest — it's all part of the job description for Director Nolan. And she does it all with such grace, good-humour and positive energy that she robs self-doubters of their usual excuses. In other words, you just can't help yourself. Before you can even refuse, you find yourself immersed in the stage game happily following Ms Nolan's lead...

Did I mention her hippy transformation for last month's Icon Gone and her contest-winning riff on the denizens of Toad Hall and their importance to Whistler's overall gestalt? Or the fact that she won the event for the second year in a row — and against a stacked list of contestants? I mean, this gal just doesn't sleep. How can she? Her brain must be buzzing at a million miles an hour...

Ironic too. While some Whistlerites may take all these creative contributions for granted, the fact that Angie Nolan even lives in Whistler today is due to the painful reality that a car accident cut short her mainstream filmmaking career nearly fifteen years ago. This woman had the talent to go all the way. Her accident forced her to reconfigure her life path. Which brought her full-circle back to Whistler, and her insatiable desire to tell local stories.

But I'm getting ahead of myself again. Let's go back to the beginning.

She was born in Vancouver. "But I was raised on the Sunshine Coast," she says. "In Gibsons to be precise. I moved there in Grade 4 to live with my mom and her new husband...." She laughs. "My bio-dad was this free-spirited party-on kind of rock and roll guy. But my mom and new dad lived this super-straight June Cleaver lifestyle." She shrugs. Laughs again. "I guess I grew up appreciating both perspectives."

It was the late 1970's. And the small fishing/mill town of Gibsons was still very much on the edge of the world back then. For a gal with a curious mind and boundless energy, the place was just a wee bit too quiet. She needed more.

Enter Whistler. And skiing. And the whole social maelstrom that swirled around the sport. "I first went skiing with friends," she says. "And I totally fell in love with it. It wasn't my parents' thing, you know. It was my thing. Besides, skiing was cool. Not everyone did it. At school, being part of the ski club gave you a certain cachet..." But there was more. The chance to get off the isolated, ferry-accessed stretch of coastline, admits Angie, was a big reason ski trips appealed to her so much.

"It was an escape, for sure. Both physically and socially. When you were part of the ski club, everyone was equal. Rich or poor, everyone had to fundraise. Still, for me — and it hasn't changed all that much — I loved the party aspect of the sport." More happy laughter. "I love the mountains and the snow, you know. But I'm such a social butterfly. And that drive up to Whistler — it's always been so awesome..."

Angie lived some seminal moments at Whistler. "I had my first legal pint at the Boot," she proclaims proudly. "Came up to Whistler with friends to celebrate my 19th birthday." Which triggers a wavelet of nostalgia for that smelly old favourite. "The Ski Boot Pub was still the place back then," she says. "Being in that pub, meeting people from all over the world — that was so exciting!"

But there was more to life than Whistler. And the storytelling-obsessed teenager — "I've written stuff all my life," says Angie. "My mom still has a poem I wrote in Grade 4!" — had fallen for the enthralling world of film and video. "I was kind of a good student," she explains (almost apologetically). "And we had this really cool TV Program at our school — which I took in Grade 11 and 12." She shrugs. Laughs. "And I guess that's how I managed to become a production assistant on The Beachcombers series so soon after graduation. Oh my God — for me, that was the ultimate job!"

Remember The Beachcombers? Shot on location in and around Gibsons, the rootsy TV comedy about a log salvager (Bruno Gerussi) and his motley crew of misfits and eccentrics (Jackson Davies et al) became something of a launchpad for the burgeoning film community soon to be labelled "Hollywood North." And Angie was only too happy to ride the swell and gain valuable experience as a junior member of the crew. "Still to this day," she admits, "That Beachcombers job holds a special place in my heart." She sighs. "Almost like a first love..."

So what if she was at the bottom of the totem pole. Angie was finally working in the film business. "The production assistant," she explains, "is known as the 'lollypop-girl.' She's like the production team slave. But it didn't matter. I was learning so much." Because film-workers had yet to organize, Angie was asked to do all sorts of jobs that she'd never get to do on today's union-controlled sets. "And that was totally cool. It was kind of like an immersion course in filmmaking and production."

But the self-styled "kind of a good student" wasn't finished with conventional school just yet. The PA job was just a summer gig after all. Angie still had a university degree to complete. "I attended Capilano College and UVic from '88-'92," she says. "I took theatre, English and psychology — as well as various technical film courses."

Between classes (and film-work stints), she and her friends would head up to Whistler as often as they could. "I wanted so badly to live fulltime at Whistler," she says. "But I also wanted so badly to work in the film business..."

It's the kind of life-work conundrum that most Whistlerites know only too well. And Angie did her best to strike some kind of balance between her two loves. But she quickly realized just how difficult that balancing act was.

"For a while there, I was living in Whistler and working for the movies in Vancouver. I don't know how many times I drove Highway 99. I had this big Ford Galaxy then. I thought I was invincible." Still...

"At some point in your life," she explains, "you get to make a choice. It's either your career or Whistler." She sighs. "But that decision was made for me." It happened in the fall of 1999. The 29-year old, who'd flown up the ranks and was now working as an assistant director, was on her way home from a wrap party when the car she was riding in was t-boned at a Vancouver intersection. The result? Compressed spine, and a dislocated hip, knee and jaw. "Doctors, specialists... months of tests. It just went on and on." Angie stops talking. Takes a long breath. "It soon became clear to me that my mainstream film career was over." She sighs. "That's when the panic hit. What else was I going to do? I mean, I'd never done anything else..."

Next week: Angie moves to Whistler full time, gets a job with Canadian Snowmobile Adventures and starts to work her creative magic on the local art scene.

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