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"With that prize theyve gone a long way towards making their festival an attractive destination for small Canadian filmmakers... some unknown Canadian filmmaker our next Stephen Soderbergh might choose to premiere his film at Whistler. And its a snowballing thing. If theres some track record of successful stuff coming out of Whistler then its all the more attractive for somebody to go there the next time."
Johnson says the Whistler Film Festivals strength will lie in being specialized. They may not have the population base needed to rise to the profile of a large metropolitan festival, but the flipside is that size can be equal parts benefit and downfall.
Though Sundance doesnt have a large population base it draws its size from its "proximity to the American industry," Johnson says, the biggest in the world. And while Bessai waxes positive about Sundance, Johnsons outlook is not so sunny.
"I wouldnt like to see Whistler turn into Sundance," he stated. "Sundance is not a lot of fun. The worst bumper-to-bumper traffic Ive ever seen in the world is at the Sundance Film Festival." (Strong words from a Toronto dweller). "Its bursting at the seams. Its outgrown its facilities. Its outgrown the town.
"Whistler has a long way to go," he added, "but I think theyre building it on the right scale."
The right scale. Its not exactly the Robert Redford-esque stratosphere of unlimited potential. But sensible can be sexy. Finding a niche can be exciting and admittedly, shooting for Sundance may be shooting a bit too high.
One state to the east, in Telluride, Colorado, another film festival has occurred yearly on Labour Day weekend for the past 31 years without so much celebrity sighting and bumper-to-bumper traffic. But dont let the lack of pomp and blast fool you. In a Sept. 11 article rating the best of the worlds intimate festivals Globe and Mail critic Liam Lacey had Telluride front and centre, citing such influential discoveries over the years as David Lynchs Blue Velvet , Michael Moores debut documentary Roger and Me and kung-fu ballet Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon .
Programming director Bill Evans says that seems more Whistlers style.
"We want Whistler to be Sundance in the way of discoveries, but realistically we know well never match it as a market," he remarked. "If theres a festival we should model ourselves after its more the Telluride festival, kind of a boutique festival. A quieter festival but equally esteemed."
Even more importantly, the Telluride festival has managed to maintain a sense of community, Evans notes. Something that has been pushed into the background at the rock n roll celebrity zoo that is Sundance.