Canadian film. The term conjures images of low-budget set design and unknown actors frozen in still frames. Yes, still frames because hardly anyone actually watches Canadian film.
This reputation, sadly, is completely without merit but pervades the Canadian media landscape. Few cinemas actually show Canadian film while Hollywood not only eats up the funding, but also the lion's share of Canadians' attention.
Which is exactly why the Borsos Competition exists. The Whistler Film Festival's (WFF) flagship event promotes the best films from Canada's brightest talent. The six films featured each year represent the varied creeks and caverns that the Canadian imagination can inhabit and there's no running theme linking the films. There's no "Canadian look," and very little that indicates it's national origins.
"We always say that Canadian films are the heart of the festival and this competition... is an important thing in celebrating Canadian cinema," says Stacey Donen, WFF's artistic director.
"It's important to actually come out and see the films because there is an attitude about what Canadian cinema is, but I don't think it's based on anything," he says.
The competition, set up in honour of legendary B.C. director Phillip Borsos, offers a $15,000 cash prize for the winner. Donen says the WFF looks for a cross-section of Canada's best work from across the country, while showing examples of the varying styles: comedy, drama, thriller etc.
"We want to have an over-all look of Canadian cinema this year by showing different kinds of films made in the country, and hopefully some of the best films made in the country this year," he says.
Now in its ninth year, festival organizers are touting this year's event as possibly the strongest yet. The films will be shown throughout the weekend, with the winner announced at the WFF awards ceremony on Sunday, along with the winners of the other competitions.
The films on the bill include Randall Cole's 388 Arletta Avenue, a thriller about an affluent Toronto family unwittingly under 24 hour surveillance; Jean Marc Vallee's Café de Flore, about the parallel fates of a 1960s Parisian mother and a present day Montreal DJ; Doppelganger Paul, from Vancouver director Dylan Akio Smith and Kris Elgstrand, about a young man who believes he's found his doppelganger; Guy Maddin's Keyhole, a gangster film set in a haunted house in the 1930s; Christopher Petry's Marilyn, which follows a bank robber who takes a young runaway under his wing; and Monsieur Lazha from Philippe Falardeau, which won Best Canadian Film at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this year and is Canada's official entry for Best Foreign Language Film Academy award.
But Donen says these are merely six films made in the past year that are worthy of the competition. Narrowing it down is a difficult, near-impossible even, exercise made even harder now that top Canadian filmmakers are now actively sending their films to the WFF for inclusion in the Borsos Competition.
"We have some films that are made by some very well-established film makers, and some newer film makers," Donen says. "It's a bit of a balance between some old guard, some new guys."
As the festival grows, the hope is to maintain what Borsos has become and to continue to show the best and most diverse in Canadian cinema while progressing cinema culture in Whistler and beyond, where Canadian filmmakers are celebrated.
"We've gotten to place where we do have some of the greatest filmmakers of our time within this competition. I think it's become a much-celebrated place where people want their films to be screened. The more that we can get it out to the public would be important, that's always an important thing for us," Donen says.
"We're as accomplished as anyone else, and that's what we want to continue to go toward."