Insiders’ glimpses of Whistler at WFF 

Local filmmakers’ projects presented at 2008 Whistler Film Festival opening gala

click to enlarge Vintage Whistler A shot from Mackay-Smith's Gondola Stories
  • Vintage Whistler A shot from Mackay-Smith's Gondola Stories

Whistler is more than just snow and skiing, and anyone who doesn’t believe that this is a diverse, eclectic community need only check out one of the Whistler Stories — a series of five-minute films that tell tales about the people and events that have shaped this town.

The Whistler Stories are part of a commissioned legacy program that was started in 2005, with four films screened each year at the Whistler Film Festival. B.C. filmmakers produce all of the films, and each tells a story from the Sea to Sky region with a relevant Whistler link. By next December there will be a collection of 20 Whistler Stories, just in time for the 2010 Games.

“We’re the last really big event in town before the Olympics, so the goal was to really have a cultural program that shared our local stories,” said festival director Shauna Hardy Mishaw.

Whistler Stories have already been incorporated into the Cultural Olympiad programming, with a special snow screening planned for February 2009.

“We really wanted to shine a positive light on our community and share some stories that you wouldn’t know unless you lived here,” Hardy Mishaw explained.

This year, organizers managed to narrow down almost 30 applicants to just five local film projects: Laura James’s “Behind the Cup,” Angie Nolan’s “Hairfarmin’,” Ivan Hughes’s “Speedbumps,” and “Gondola Stories,” by Ace Mackay-Smith.

“I think they were really well received — people really loved them,” said Hardy Mishaw. “I mean, some of them are a little bit raw, they need a little bit of tweaking before we do our presentation in February, but overall, (we’ve had) really great comments and feedback, and people really look forward to them.”

The opening gala is a community-focused event, so it made sense to include Whistler Stories at the beginning of the evening.

“For those filmmakers to premiere their films to 1,000 people in a packed house is a pretty cool experience,” said Hardy Mishaw.

MacKay-Smith, the director, producer and writer of “Gondola Stories”, is a creative local Jill-of-all-trades. She’s a renowned go-go dancer, DJ and party planner, to name just a few of her talents and hobbies. Five years ago, she began dabbling in the fine art of filmmaking.

About 10 years ago, she worked with renowned filmmaker Greg Stump, though she wasn’t part of the editing process.

“I watched him edit all the time,” she added.

In 2003, she entered the 72-Hour Filmmaker Showdown at the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival, back when there was no prize, and it was all about the glory.

“I actually won that year, so that was pretty bizarre, because it was the first thing I’d done,” she said with a laugh.

After sleeping only about one hour during that competition, Mackay-Smith took a bit of a hiatus from filmmaking.

“Filming and editing and stuff like that is so time-consuming, and that’s probably why I haven’t done one in a few years,” she admitted.

But after seeing the Whistler Stories at the past three Whistler Film Festivals, she decided it was time to pick up the camera again — this time, with a $5,000 budget and a more lenient deadline.

As a long-time Whistler resident, it wasn’t easy to pick just one community story to tell. She finally settled on the iconic gondola, and decided to ride the gondolas all day on the last day of the season last year, interviewing and shooting a vast array of characters as they made their way up the mountain for a final few runs. Everyone from little kids to neon-clad, die-hard snowboarders make an appearance in the film.

The documentary-style film also features interviews with long-time locals, who reminisce about their last rides on the old Creekside gondola.

Mackay-Smith even managed to chat with Isobel Maclaurin in her retired gondola, which is perched in her backyard (at one point, they actually toast the gondola with champagne).

The film comes full-circle with an introduction to the flashy new Peak 2 Peak gondola cabins, which are start operating on Friday.

But the focus of the film is definitely on the personalities and people who love this mountain town.

“It’s not always about building bigger and better and newer, and all that. That’s not why I’m still here, anyways!” she chuckled.

Anyone who missed out on the past four years of Whistler Stories will have a chance to catch up on Feb. 23 and 24, from 5 p.m. until 6 p.m., when they’re projected onto the Whistler Film Festival Snow Screen.

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