Few people know that the merging of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains was set into motion at a dinner party, but that's actually where Hugh Smythe and Joe Houssian first crossed paths. They went on to join forces and eventually united both mountains into one enterprise, transforming Whistler into a world-class destination.
Now, the history behind the creation of Whistler Blackcomb is being told in a five-minute film, When Hugh Met Joe , created by writer Cindy Filipenko and filmmaker Jim Budge. They've created the short film as part of the fifth and final installment of the Whistler Film Festival's Whistler Stories program, modeling it loosely on the classic romantic comedy, When Harry Met Sally .
The Whistler Stories program was launched in 2005 as a way to ensure the community's stories were told to the world in the lead-up to the Olympics.
"It's like a legacy program basically in advance of the 2010 Games and the idea really was each year we would commission up to four films that were based on stories from Whistler and the area, and they had to... thematically portray one of the Olympic pillars," Shauna Hardy Mishaw, executive director of WFF, explained.
Each film is just five minutes long and tells a very different story. To date, 23 films have been created through the program, each telling a different personal local tale, whether it is a character exploration of Guitar Doug and Grateful Greg of the Hairfarmers or a history of the Whistler Cup.
"It's those stories that we felt were these little treasured time capsules that we wanted to keep," Hardy Mishaw explained.
They also coordinate the Whistler Stories youth program, engaging and educating kids between the ages of 14 and 19 in the filmmaking process. This year, the youth project produced four three-minute short films that are included in the Whistler Stories program.
Organizers were inspired to create the program after a visit to the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, where they had an opportunity to meet with Raymond Grant, the former Executive Director of the Sundance Institute and Director of the Cultural Olympiad for the Salt Lake Olympic Games.
"He said, 'whatever you do, tell your own stories, because the media is going to come in there and butcher them...' so essentially if you don't find a way to take your stories and encapsulate them then they'll get lost or they won't be shared."
WFF organizers wanted to ensure that these important stories were made available to the public and media that will soon be flooding the town.
"What's really unique about Whistler is that it was built on an Olympic dream, it was built on this dream and five successive bids later, we achieved it, and during that time this town had phenomenal growth and incredible people," Hardy Mishaw said.
WFF organizers made a list of almost 20 different topics they were hoping to cover.
"The last one's actually the one about Hugh and Joe, that was one that I really wanted to do," Hardy Mishaw said.
She was so keen to have that story told that she actually approached local filmmaker Jim Budge to see if he would be interested in the project.
"That was a story that only a few people could tell well."
Budge started working with this cutting-edge technology (VHS) almost 30 years ago while bartending in Kamloops. He moved to Whistler in 1981 after he caught word that Blackcomb was opening.
"I came and saw Whistler in October and there was nobody here and there was a dusting of snow on the peaks, and I just immediately fell in love with it," he recalled.
He also had timing on his side: he was the first guy in town with experience with video and soon began working with the mountains shooting ski races and lessons, carving out a niche for his business, Long Run Video Productions. Over his years in the community, he's accumulated 100 of hours of archived footage, which came in handy when working on this latest film for the festival. That, coupled with his long-term working relationship with Whistler Blackcomb made Budge the obvious choice for the project.
WFF organizers first approached Budge about the project in the summer, but he initially declined because he was working on another big project for Whistler Blackcomb.
"But as they described what they wanted, I kind of thought it wouldn't make sense for anyone else to do it because I knew Hugh and Joe and I had all the footage, too, from that era."
He was finally talked into doing the project, and he, Filipenko and another filmmaker, Chris Smith, quickly got down to work on what he describes as the "labour of love."
"It shows that Whistler isn't just this corporate ski town, designed and built," Budge said. "It had growing pains and it had challenges and it had guys that stuck their necks out and had big dreams and big visions."
The filmmakers eventually managed to get Houssian and Smythe to sit down together (actually, in Dusty's during off-season, when it was closed to the public) for an interview.
"(The interview) made it. The whole idea was to try to show that it was skiers and people with these big personalities getting involved, and that it wasn't just two big companies merging," Budge explained. "It was two quite different personalities between Hugh and Joe, and coincidence and fate and everything that happened that changed Whistler."
This round of the Whistler Stories lineup, which also includes Liz Thomson's Whistler's Crazy Canucks , Nicole Fitzgerald's The Turning Season in Whistler , and Peter Harvey's Growing Up Whistler , will be split up between opening and closing night with two of the films shown each evening. In addition, 10 selected Whistler Stories will be screened on an outdoor screen in Skiers Plaza at 5 p.m. on Saturday night, and the youth films will be screened within the family day program on Sunday at 1 and 3:15 p.m. at Village 8 Cinemas. A selection of the films will also be shown each day of the festival at the American Express Warming Hut in the heart of the village.
And after the festival, the Whistler Stories films will be screening on Air Canada and British Airways flights, and as part of the Whistler Live! lineup during the Games.