Film lineup unveiled for 2014 Whistler Film Festival 

The stars align themselves with more for participants and fans; Jason Priestley returns as festival ambassador

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - Film Festival opener The Imitation Game starring Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch.
  • Photo submitted
  • Film Festival opener The Imitation Game starring Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch.

We love movies with childlike enthusiasm, but Paul Gratton might have us all beat this year.

As Gratton, the Whistler Film Festival's (WFF) director of programming for the last three years, unveils the full list of films for 2014, he says he can't stop talking about it, and proceeds to bubble over with happiness.

"This year, I have to admit, I'm really excited!" He says over the phone from Toronto.

"I think that for a festival of its size, five days' long and 40 features, this is starting to get pretty close to how I'd dreamt it could be."

There are 22 world premieres at the WFF this year (11 of which are Canadian features and the rest short films), more Oscar-worthy films, more stars coming to town (though the announcement for the latter is next week — honourees, juries and special guests — Wednesday, Nov. 12).

"I think this year's programming is so rich it's hard to stick to one subject when I talk about it," Gratton says, adding at this week's WFF launch in Toronto he found it hard to stop talking.

"Even I was surprised. I had most of my Canadian titles lined up pretty early on and I was looking at the number of world premieres and I realized that something was happening here."

"There's a little bit of the divine in it, a little bit of happenstance and a little bit of the stars aligning themselves."

If anything, WFF organizers have tried to consolidate what they have been doing well over the years. The festival is now in its 14th year.

Gratton says there were 700 submissions, the majority being shorts, and 87 films will be screened during the course of the festival.

WFF opens on Wednesday, Dec. 3 with The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley. The film tells the tragic story of British mathematician Alan Turing, who helped crack the German Enigma code during the Second World War.

"It won the people's choice award in Toronto, where there were many options to choose from. I think the film is multilayered — it's the biography of a war hero who invented arguably the first computer in history," says Gratton.

"But he was also a homosexual who ended up committing suicide because of persecution. He may also have had Asperger's Syndrome and it deals with that."

WFF's closing gala takes place on Sunday, Dec. 7 with the first feature film by homegrown favourite, Mike Douglas of Switchback Entertainment. His film Snowman follows avalanche controller Kevin Foglin's close call with the mountains.

Another special presentation showing is the love story Elsa & Fred starring Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer. As well, there is the Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything starring Oscar contender Eddie Redmayne and A Most Violent Year, starring Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac.

Julianne Moore stars in Still Alice, about a woman battling early-onset Alzheimer's and British actor Simon Pegg stars in the Australian film Kill Me Three Times.

The Horseman, directed by Tommy Lee Jones, is also coming to the festival.

Gratton says one thing there is less of this year is the late night horror films.

"This year, I've only got two of them but they're extremely well chosen. One, What We Do in the Shadows, won the people's choice award at Midnight Madness in Toronto (at TIFF)," he says.

"Rather than have a whole strand of up-and-coming horror movies, we decided to go with one that has already won a major audience award. The other one is called Deadly Virtues, and it's the North American premiere of the film. I think it will shock everyone."

Other Late Night movies include Bad City, directed by Carl Bessai and The Duke of Burgundy, directed by Peter Strickland.

When it comes to Canadian movies, 54 per cent of the feature-length films at WFF and 76 per cent of short films are from this country. Eighteen countries are presented at the festival.

Six films are in competition for the Borsos Award for Canadian film and its $15,000 first prize. They are After the Ball (director Sean Garrity), Bang Bang Baby (director Jeffrey St. Jules), Felix and Meira (director Maxime Giroux), Mountain Men (director Cameron Labine), Relative Happiness (director Deanne Foley) and Wolves (director Sophie Deraspe).

In all, prize money up for grabs at the festival totals $46,500.

And family programming returns with The Outlaw League, directed by Jean Beaudry, and Song of the Sea, directed by Academy Award winner Tomm Moore.

This year's ShortWork Competition has 44 diverse short movies, including comedies and aboriginal shorts.

The involvement of film industry magazine Variety and its "10 Screenwriters to Watch" feature returns to Whistler for the third year.

And actor Jason Priestley, who brought his directorial debut Cas & Dylan to Whistler in 2013, is returning as an ambassador for WFF.

WFF executive director Shauna Hardy Mishaw says much of their success is owed to her staff in Whistler, and Gratton.

"This year we've taken a leap forward. Paul knocked it out of the park," Hardy Mishaw says, adding with a laugh, "We're going for complete domination here."

She also paid tribute to Elevation Pictures, which offered the festival "an amazing slate of films this year."

She adds: "The relationship we have between the distributors and the filmmakers is absolutely key to our success... the level of people we have coming here is unprecedented."

Hardy Mishaw says she feels great.

"We're all just really excited about the lineup," she adds. "And we've had more early bird pass sales this year than we have before. Basically a five times increase. So we know the word is out there... we have gained significant traction. It's an amazing opportunity for Whistler."

Upgrades in 2014 to the Rainbow Theatre, the main venue for the festival where the biggest premieres show, has been an enormous boost.

"An absolutely critical piece of the puzzle has been having that venue refurbished and having it upgraded with a digital cinema system," Hardy Mishaw says.

WFF made other event announcements this week.

Six Canadian producers have been selected to take part in WFF's Feature Project Lab, which brings filmmakers together with funders and advisors on how to get their projects made.

The recipients are Amber Ripley with Dreamland by Tony Burgess, Angela Heck with Bumpershines by Cathryn Atkinson (Ed Note: Cathryn is Pique arts editor and writer of this piece), Farah Merani with Good Night Amherst by James Fanizza, Jason James with The Mother Outlaws by Garfield Lindsey, Luke Black with To Be Continued by Grant and Stu Marks, and Martin de Valk with Container written by Brian Paisley, Keith Digby and Martin de Valk.

The winners of the new joint WFF-Praxis Centre for Screenwriters Lab for five days of intense mentoring and writing workshops are: Aerlan Barrett for Elise,  Elizabeth Dancoes for Killing Bob, Josh Epstein and Kyle Rideout for Monoceros, Karl Hearne for Touched,Jake Howell for Shoot the Moon, Eisha Marjara for Calorie, Daniel Rindress-Kay for Frozen and Jordan Wilson for Mack-Doe.

Tickets for all films and events went on sale on Wednesday, Nov. 5. Hardy Mishaw believes many will sell out quickly. To purchase tickets and passes visit www.whistlerfilmfestival.com.

Another innovation for 2014 is the #IloveWhistlerfilmfest contest. Share a photo with that hashtag and tag @whisfilmfest on Instagram and/or Twitter to be entered in a getaway package for the festival.

Prizes include two gold passes for the festival, from Dec. 3 to 7, two nights' accommodation, two Scandinave Spa passes and two lift passes. The contest runs from Nov. 3 to Nov. 30.

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