A&E » Arts

Whistler Stories: Frozen in time

Collection of short films captures local characters, stories, projects them onto snow screen



What: Whistler Stories
When: Saturday, Feb. 21 & Sunday, Feb. 22, 5 to 6 p.m.
Where: Skier's Plaza
Admission: Free!

Feet Banks, a filmmaker, writer and general film buff, and Chili Thom, an established artist, DJ and artistic jack-of-all-trades, are just two of Whistler's many well-known characters. If you're not familiar with the two, you can meet them via film, in Sojourn, a.k.a. High in the Mountains.

A few years back, the friends teamed up to produce a short film, heading out for a week-long backcountry trek to seek inspiration for Thom's paintings, exploring new landscapes and capturing the entire journey on film.

Banks, who studied film at the University of Victoria, jumped at the chance to combine loves of filmmaking and nature with the "Sojourn" film. The project also gave the friends a great excuse to make the long-awaited trip into the mountains off the Duffey Lake Road.

"We actually lucked into amazing weather, and everything was fine. We hadn't been up there before, but Chili is trained as a backcountry guide, so we knew where we were, we knew where we were going," Banks recalled.

Their film was created for the first year of Whistler Stories, an Olympic-inspired series that was launched in 2005.

"Essentially, we wanted to launch a legacy program leading up to the Olympics," explained Shauna Hardy Mishaw, executive director of the Whistler Film Festival (WFF). "So, we determined that over a period of five years, we would commission up to four filmmakers a year to make a short Whistler Story film of five minutes."

To date, there are 14 completed films, created by B.C. filmmakers and featuring local stories with international appeal, with a final four to be commissioned during this year's film festival to complete the series. As well, a special series of Whistler Youth Stories films, as part of the Cultural Capitals of Canada program, are being commissioned. At the end of the series, they should have 24 films.

"People need to know that Whistler is an Olympic story," said Hardy Mishaw. "...It's really exciting for us to be able to share these stories, and for us, it's on film."

WFF officials act as the executive producers, seeing the project through from its inception to the final product.

"Obviously, there are a lot of people who apply every year, so we give them an outline of the stories that we're looking for, but often people will come back with really unique ideas," Hardy Mishaw said.

The Sea to Sky region is rich in filmmaking talent, so it was really no surprise that interest in the program from within the region has been strong.

"We don't want ski porn and snowboard porn - we want films that are professionally done, and it's really done because it forces the filmmakers to have to produce films of a higher calibre," said Hardy Mishaw.

Their standards are definitely high, because they have to find the best four films for each given year. WFF supports the program financially, and this year, the Cultural Olympiad has stepped in with a grant to support the new Whistler Stories youth program, which will start this spring.

According to Banks, Whistler's film scene was strong even before the series was commissioned, but he pointed out that it's always a challenge to find funding and venues to screen a film.

"The hardest part about making a film, as far as I'm concerned, is just getting motivated to do it, and the motivation comes a lot easier if you know there's going to be someone that's going to see it. And it comes extra easy if you know there's somebody else paying for it," Banks said.

This week, the completed films will be shown to the public in a very public space: Skier's Plaza. While they have been shown on an outdoor screen in the past, this is the first time organizers have added a decided chill to the evenings, with a 9 by 12-foot screen covered in ice and sculpted to resemble a retro TV.

And if you can't catch the films up on the snow screen this year, you may have a few more chances to check them out.

"Ideally, these stories will be part of the Cultural Olympiad program," Hardy Mishaw said. "And because we own the rights, we're actually looking to broadcast them wherever possible."