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More than just films

Networking opportunity for local filmmakers

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Independent filmmakers face many challenges in a marketplace saturated with Hollywood films.

While one of Canada’s most celebrated producers, Robert Lantos, characterized independent filmmakers as David coming up against Goliath, like all Hollywood films, there is a happy ending. Movie goers and film festivals alike are gathering strength for the Davids of the world – sometimes with something as simple as a $9.30 movie ticket or in the Whistler Film Festival’s case, four days of intensive films, workshops, North American-wide media coverage, grants and awards, including the festival’s cornerstone of $10,000 for Best New Canadian Feature.

"Every one of the films I felt were boldly original," Lantos said of the Borsos Award contenders. "It bodes well for the future."

This year, the award, honouring Grey Fox filmmaker Phillip Borsos, was presented to Exiles in Lotus Land , a raw film documenting the lives of two Quebec street kids who travel to live in the streets of Vancouver. Defying a tick-tock society, the two find what they call independence in the streets, along with crystal meth, social workers, pregnancy and finally suicide.

Judges sited the humanity of the film.

"When it comes to street kids, we fall into pity, a gutter of emotion," Exiles in Lotus Land director Ilan Saragosti said. "It is a matter of coming to see their basic humanity and how they are looking for respect, which goes beyond us just helping."

Heartfelt characters were also behind the success of Citytv’s CineCity: Vancouver’s Stories short script competition winner Harvey the Indian by Andrew Genaille. The First Nations writer tackled the stereotypes he confronts everyday with the humour of a man approaching a native businessman on the street, saying he is looking for an "Indian" to cure him of cancer, because of course all natives have healing powers.

"It will be great to make some contacts and better understand how (production and distribution) work," said Genaille.

The short script workshop was part of the Bell Filmmaker Forums, which introduced aspiring filmmakers to the industry’s best. Attendance was up BLANK per cent this year.

"We had a huge increase in the industry side of the festival, which was what we wanted," said festival director Shauna Hardy Mishaw. "The festival is gaining notoriety in the industry. It was covered on eTalk and ET Canada last night. It is a testament to the success of the festival."

It looks like media coverage will extend until February with the possibility of CBC airing Rebecca Wood Barrett’s The First to Go Down , one of three films in the festival’s Whistler Stories project this year. No deal has been finalized but CBC is considering airing the film during the Torino Olympic Winter Games. However, Hardy Mishaw said there was also talk of flying out the film’s narrator, Whistler Secondary School student Connor McGillion for the event.

Creating opportunities for filmmakers and businesses to network is a key focus for the festival, one that is conducive to the intimate festival of fewer than one hundred films and the casual setting Whistler provides.

"Films don’t get lost in 300 other films like bigger film festivals," Hardy Mishaw said. "The intimacy is what attracts people here. People were running into filmmakers in the village, making business contacts. Sony made a deal with a California filmmaker. It is great to see clients and filmmakers doing business. It is a testament to the festival and resort."

So whether showcasing the independent filmmaker, finding funding for new projects or just getting bums in seats to widen the film-going experience, the Whistler Film Festival is more than a celebration of the filmmaking medium: it funds it, exposes it, markets it and best of all opens viewers minds to reaching past the blockbuster hits stacked on the shelves.

Other festival winners this year included The Best of Secter and the Rest of Secter for Best Documentary, Off Road to Athens for the Best Mountain Culture Film and Noise for Best Short Film.

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