In just seven years the Whistler Film Festival has officially arrived, attracting more movies, filmmakers, celebrities, and movie industry representatives in 2007 than ever before.
This year, organizers showcased a total of 92 films, including 37 feature-length and mid-length films and 55 short films, including the latest additions to the Whistler Stories collection.
In total, organizers sold more than 7,000 tickets to films, including 1,200 tickets for the sold out opening gala and screening of Days of Darkness, by Quebec filmmaker Denys Arcand.
That’s well over 800 more tickets sold than last year, or an increase in attendance by 16 per cent over 2006 and 32 per cent over 2005.
As well as attracting more interest from the industry, the prize money for entries was also given a boost this year, with a total purse of over $42,000 from different sources.
As festival co-founder Shauna Hardy-Mishaw commented on opening night, “our little film festival isn’t so little any more.”
Continental – A Film Without Guns won the Borsos Award and $15,000 for the Best New Canadian Feature Film, presented by the Directors Guild of Canada, B.C. District Council and Telefilm Canada. The movie, by Stephane Lafleur, has been compared to Crash if it was a comedy instead of a melodrama.
The Borsos Best Actor and Best Actress Awards, worth $500, went to Rupinder Nagra in Amal and May Batten-Young in River.
The $5,000 Best Documentary Award, presented by CBC Newsworld, was awarded to We Are Together, which depicts the lives of children growing up in the Agape orphanage in South Africa, and their children’s choir making a trip to New York City.
The $1,000 Best Short Film Award, presented by Movieola, was awarded to The Colony and director Jeff Barnaby of the MiGmaq First Nations. The Colony chronicles one man’s descent into madness, and was recognized earlier this year as one of the top short films in the Toronto International Film Festival.
The inaugural Motion Picture Production Industry Association of British Columbia (MPPIA) new Short Film Award went to Marshall Axani, the director and writer of The Light of the Family Burnham. The award is reserved for B.C. filmmakers, and includes $15,000 in cash plus up to $10,000 in service contributions for the production of a short film.
The award for the best mountain culture film went to Steep by Mark Obenhaus, which features backcountry legend Eric Pehota.
The Bell Audience Award for Best Feature Film, as voted by moviegoers, was Amal by rookie Canadian director Richie Mehta. The film is about an autorickshaw driver in New Delhi who finds his life in danger after he is willed the fortune of a billionaire who is moved by his plight.
Other features of the festival include a tribute to Canadian director Atom Egoyan, the second annual Whistler Film Festival (WFF) Celebrity Challenge ski competition, and the industry workshops. The 2007 Filmmaker forum had 684 attendees, which is a 16 per cent increase over last year. Total Doc Talk attendance, including Pitch Fest West, the Keynote Luncheon, panels, meetings, and forums, had 290 participants.
The WFF helped to connect several industry players, with the number of business meetings increasing by 68 per cent to over 200 meetings. Those meetings helped to launch two contracts worth $38 million signed during an industry meeting.
Movie Plus, based out of Los Angeles, signed an agreement with PKU Starlight Group of Beijing to co-produce the Chinese movie Mulan. The movie will be shot in China with the goal of creating an international release.
As well, Toronto-based Channel Zero is in discussions with JA Media of Hong Kong on an $8 million adaptation of Concubine’s Children, based on a book by Canadian novelist Denise Chong.
Several other projects were also advanced through the Whistler Filmmaker Forum, through 12 sessions, networking lunches, one-on-one meetings, breakout sessions and receptions. The forum took place from Nov. 28 to Dec. 1.
“At the Whistler Filmmaker Forum we strive to provide Canadian producers the support and market intelligence they need to compete internationally,” said program director Bill Evans. “We are extremely gratified to see this strategy paying off.”