With all the excitement and glitz, it's the films that lie at the heart of this festival and this year boasts what might just be its finest selection yet. Over 30 feature films are set for screening over five days, which might make it difficult for everyone to choose what to go see.
Fortunately, we, Whistler's ever-reliable list makers, have scoured the schedule to provide for you seven must-see films at this year's event. Granted, these are by no means the best films, and all the films are worth checking out, but between skiing, doing laundry, feeding the kids, feeding yourself, sleeping and assorted other necessary tasks, many of us might only catch a few films at best.
And since every single one of you should have gone to see the special screening of Young Adult, starring Charlize Theron and Oswalt (who's already getting Oscar buzz for his performance) and directed by Reitman (Juno; Up in the Air), everything here is running from tonight (Thursday) onward.
Being Elmo (Thursday, 4 p.m. at Village 8 Cinema): Directors Constance Marks and Philip Shane document the life of Kevin Clash, the man behind Elmo, Sesame Street's much-beloved furry red muppet. Combining archival footage with present-day material, it explores Clash's life while chronicling the meteoric rise of Jim Henson, and Elmo, in the process. The film, which won the Special Jury prize at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, features narration by Whoopi Goldberg and interviews with Frank Oz, Rosie O'Donnell, Cheryl Henson and others.
The Vanishing Spring Light (Thursday, 6:30 p.m. at Millennium Place): The first film in the WFF's Spotlight on China, this documentary from director Xun Yu follows the final two years in the life of Grandma Jiang, matriarch of a normal Chinese family in Dujiangyan, in the country's southwest, as her family copes with her illness and struggles to avoid collapse. As their neighbourhood deals with redevelopment, the film also documents China's evolving modern landscape, the effect it has on its historic past, and how it mirrors the rifts of its citizens.
388 Arletta Avenue (Thursday, 9:15 p.m. at Village 8 Cinema): An affluent Toronto couple is secretly videotaped by a mysterious stalker in their home, on the streets and in their workplace. It breeds tension between the couple. And then the wife goes missing. Starring Nick Stahl, Mia Kirshner and Devon Sawa, and shot entirely from the vantage point of the stalker's many surveillance and handheld cameras, the film is a contender for creepiest film of 2011.
Monsieur Lazhar (Friday, 7 p.m. at Whistler Conference Centre): The accolades this film has received is reason enough to check it out. It won the Best Canadian Feature Film Award at the Toronto Film Festival, among others, is a contender in the WFF's Borsos Competition and is Canada's selection for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award. Directed by Philippe Falardeau, one of the strongest new voices in world cinema, the film follows Bachir Lazhar, a middle-aged Algerian immigrant, who takes a job as a substitute teacher while dealing with his own personal tragedy and facing the risk of deportation.
The Sorcerer and the White Snake (Friday, 9:30 p.m. at Village 8 Cinema): The second film in WFF's Spotlight on China is the fantastical adventure tale of opposing forces of good and evil, with a young herbalist caught in the middle. Based on the Chinese "Legend of the White Snake," starring Jet Li and directed by Tony Ching (Shaolin Soccer; House of Flying Daggers), it melds Chinese mythology with modern day star power.
A Dangerous Method (Saturday, 9:15 p.m., Whistler Conference Centre): Arguably the weirdest film at this year's festival, David Cronenberg's latest outing follows a 29-year-old Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) who uses Sigmund Freud's then-experimental psychoanalysis to treat a hysterical young Russian immigrant (Kiera Knightly), uncovering a bizarre sexual element to her dysfunction. Also starring Viggo Mortensen, A Dangerous Method deals with regular Cronenberg themes of mind invasion, repression and renewal.
Take This Waltz (Sunday, 4 p.m., Millennium Place): Sarah Polley might just be one Canada's finest female writer/director. She made her 2006 debut with Away From Her, which earned Polley an Oscar nod for her screenplay about an elderly couple struggling with the wife's Alzheimer's diagnosis. And now she's returned with Take This Waltz, about a young married woman (Michelle Williams) who's domestic life is thrown into a tailspin when she has an intense and brief encounter with another man. Also starring Seth Rogan, Luke Kirby and Sarah Silverman.
For a full schedule, to buy tickets or to find out more about these films, visit www.whistlerfilmfestival.com.