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Playing with the big kids

At five years old, the Whistler Film Festival strives to define its identity



Amidst the hazy ephemera of childhood memory, turning five is something that generally stands out bold and bright as a red nose on a birthday clown. Sure you may not look all that different from when you were four. A couple pounds, a couple missing teeth, a couple sizes in moon boots, give or take. But it’s more about what’s inside that makes five count. It’s the inner awakening, the realization that you are someone significant and unique. You have your own ideas about things and your own view about how you wish people to take you. Are you the class buffoon? The bully? The flirt? The strong silent type? The peacemaker? The instigator? Or something else altogether? The world is yours in which to define yourself and one thing’s for certain, you’re not a simpering toddler anymore; you’ve made it to real school and you’re sharing a playing field with the big kids now.

It’s not just the young ’uns that start coming into their own at five. The Whistler Film Festival celebrates the five-year milestone this year and in doing so, is claiming its own spot on the playing field. But what kind of identity is the Whistler festival growing into? A glitzy, glamorous celeb-a-thon? A sober cinematic affair? A casual celebration of local talent and mountain culture? Or something else altogether?

As is the case with real kids, whatever identity develops will be largely influenced by existing power players that already rule the school. And right now the most popular, influential, untouchable kid on the Canadian landscape is the Toronto International Film Festival, an event so cool and powerful it’s even got a nonchalant nickname – the TIFF.

This year’s TIFF was a landmark of sorts. At the distinguished age of 30, the festival was lauded as being on par with France’s Cannes Film Festival in terms of international significance by none other than leading film critic Roger Ebert. Few would find fodder for argument. Over the 10-day run, Sept. 8 to 17, the 2005 TIFF presented 335 films (described by one Toronto film writer as an "orgiastic" offering), among which were 129 world premieres. Within the hive of buzz-generators screening were: Johnny Cash biopic Walk The Line , human rights drama North Country , mathematical brain teaser Proof , animated macabre tale Corpse Bride and countless others. A-list principals flooded the red carpets, VIP rooms and press conference head tables. Stratospheric one-name starlets like Gwyneth, Charlize, and Reese. J-men du jour Joaquin Phoenix, Johnny Depp and Jake Gyllenhaal. Éminences grises such as Sir Anthony Hopkins, and Shirley MacLaine. Steve Martin shopped his Shopgirl . Heath Ledger came out for Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain . Kirsten Dunst and Orlando Bloom checked in for Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown . No less than an Us Magazine’s worth of Madonnas and Diazs and Downey Juniors came to town for the TIFF.