The first time a young Paul Gratton saw his country depicted on the big screen was in 1970.
Nestled in an Ottawa theatre, he watched as decrepit, old buildings and stunning scenery of the east coast gave way to the big, bright lights of Toronto in Goin' Down the Road. "It just blew me away," Gratton, now the director of programming for the Whistler Film Festival, says. "I'd never seen Canada up there. I paid $2 to go see this movie in a local theatre and it lasted only one week and didn't do terribly well, but it's now considered one of the seminal movies in Canadian film history."
Intrigued, he traveled to nearby Quebec to check out The Initiative, Quebec's first colour film and one of the many soft porn selections that were popular at the time. "It featured a bit of gratuitous nudity," Gratton says. "But what blew me away wasn't that. It was the fact that it was shot up in the Laurentians by the side of a lake and looked just like my family cottage. I had never seen the fall colours or beauty of Canada on a big screen. From that moment on I was hooked. That was going to be my mission in life: get more Canadian movies up there."
He has continued to work towards that goal in various roles as a TV and film executive over the years. Last year, he joined the WFF team, where he's been tasked with choosing the films that screen at the festival from Dec. 4 to 8. For the 2013 festival, 51 per cent of the feature films and 60 per cent of the short films playing are Canadian. "It's a very conscious decision on one hand, but it's also very much a response to what's submitted to us," Gratton says. "A Canadian film festival has a role to play in promoting Canadian films. It's an important mission and, because of the vibe at Whistler and the fact that a number of local filmmakers want to world premiere their film at Whistler, there's a responsibility that goes with that."
Not only has the Whistler Film Festival screened a hearty helping of Canadian films over its 13 years, but it has also slowly built up industry offerings that provide filmmakers and producers with support in the form of cash prizes, recognition, networking opportunities and mentoring. Just a few of those programs: the China Canada Gateway for Film script competition, going into its second year; the ShortWork Lab, which has given away $800,000 in production services and cash over the years; and the new Feature Project Lab, running this year to help selected Canadian producers connect with industry experts from across North America.