The Whistler Film Festival's (WFF) movie lineup is out, and director of programming Paul Gratton hosted a press conference for arts journalists in Toronto, Canada's film epicentre to reveal the details.
The announcement that WFF has the Canadian premiere of Todd Haynes' film Carol, starring Rooney Mara — who won Best Actress at Cannes for her performance — and Cate Blanchett, surprised a few of the hacks who gathered, he says.
"It's a major coup by any film festival's measure of success," Gratton says.
"We had a great lineup last year with The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything, but they were films that had played Toronto. Carol hasn't played anywhere so it kind of got their attention."
Carol is the opening gala film this year.
Gratton laughs and adds: "Something is happening in Whistler. It's growing in importance year after year, and it's always nice when anyone in Toronto pays attention to anything outside the city. I say this lovingly as a Toronto resident."
This year, WFF's 15th anniversary, 89 films from 19 countries will be screened during the festival, which takes place from Dec. 2 to Dec. 6. In all there were more submissions than ever, more than 1,200.
Forty-three are short films curated into six programs.
"I'm not sure how many more that is than last year, but every year it's more and more work!" laughs Gratton. "You're not seeing a lot of sunlight."
Breaking it down, this includes 17 world premieres, 12 Canadian premieres, five North American premieres, 25 Western Canadian premieres, 21 British Columbia premieres and nine Whistler premieres.
And 65 films compete for 14 awards and over $147,500 in case and prizes.
Releases this year include: Trumbo starring Bryan Cranston, Helen Mirren, John Goodman and Diane Lane; The Lady in the Van starring Maggie Smith; Born to be Blue starring Ethan Hawke; The Meddler starring Susan Sarandon; The Legend of Barney Thomson starring Emma Thompson and directed by Robert Carlyle; Legend starring Tom Hardy; Forsaken starring Kiefer Sutherland and Donald Sutherland; and Le Mirage, Canada's highest-grossing film this year.
"I'm very happy with this year," says Gratton. "I think the mix is measurably better than last year's and last year's was measurably better than the year before. At the end of the day, it's because distributors who own the rights to these movies are showing a lot of confidence in the sort of approach we're taking, which is about marketing and promoting worthwhile movies."
Gratton says WFF remains a champion of Canadian film, the only festival to show over 50 per cent Canadian content.
Asked about his favourite from this year's pick, he says: "I really like Susan Sarandon as the mother in The Meddler. I am absolutely thrilled to be showing Legend because Tom Hardy plays twin mobsters. It's just remarkable — the technical seamlessness is amazing, there is a scene when he gets into a fistfight with himself and you're looking for seams. I couldn't tell."
Another favourite is indie comedy Chasing Banksy by Frank Henenlotter, a world premiere starring Bruce Greenwood.
"(Henenlotter) is giving us his world premiere and he's flying in for it!" Gratton says.
The festival closes with the North American premiere of Numb by Jason R. Goode, which went through the Praxis Screenwriting program.
Executive director Shauna Hardy Mishaw says they've elevated the program over last year.
"We are on an amazing trajectory in terms of what we are able to do. Our programming is a testament to that. We have more guests than ever before and higher-profile films. We set out on a course that is very exciting," she says.