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Independent films giving the blockbusters a run for their money

What: Whistler Film Festival Where: Rainbow Theatre & MY Place When: Dec. 5-8 If you’ve mulled over a movie guide or any of the box office takings of late, you’ll see that independent filmmakers are taking the industry by storm.

What: Whistler Film Festival

Where: Rainbow Theatre & MY Place

When: Dec. 5-8

If you’ve mulled over a movie guide or any of the box office takings of late, you’ll see that independent filmmakers are taking the industry by storm. No longer does it seem necessary to have Tom Cruise or Julia Roberts to get your movie moving. In fact, some of the most well-received films making people stand up and take notice don’t even have actors at all.

A selection of these new non-Hollywood popular features are making their way to Whistler for the second annual Whistler Film Festival, and Atanarjuat and Dogtown and Z Boys are excellent examples of what not to miss.

They are two distinctly different films with one common thread – both features are written, produced and directed by their subject matter.

Atanarjuat — the Fast Runner

, is an exciting action thriller set in ancient Igloolik. The film unfolds as a life-threatening struggle between powerful natural and supernatural characters.


is Canada's first feature-length fiction film written, produced, directed, and acted by Inuit. The movie has won several awards, including the 2001 Cannes film festival camera d’or for best feature film. Cinematographer/producer, Norman Cohn, said aboriginal story-telling has been a labour of love for his Inuit production company for 17 years.

"The awards and recognition by the public are testimony to how far we’ve come politically in this industry," Cohn said. "We’ve finally broken through racist stereotypes to prove that artistic merit overrides everything else."

Cohn and his Inuit team always knew they had a great film on their hands with Atanarjuat, but it was a matter of finding someone influential to recognize it.

"All serious resonant myths are universal and timeless, whether it be the big Greek myths or biblical stories. We knew that no matter how exotically placed we were, if we told the adventure in an authentic way using spectacular images, it would still feel contemporary," he said.

Enter Cannes and the rest is, as they say, cinematic history.

Dogtown and Z-Boys

traces a bunch of lower Los Angeles beach-side skate punks on their journey from dirty surfing delinquents to skateboard superstars. Even the most staunch skater hater will have a hard time knocking this unconventional documentary. With a killer soundtrack, amazing home video footage that takes you to where it all began, and zippy editing this film proves that long-haired street urchins can come up with great ideas.

The Z-Boys, in their quest to do something exciting during California’s big drought, took their skateboards to the suburbs’ empty swimming pools and started tearing up and down the concrete shells as if they were surf breaks. They turned skateboarding upside down.

Dogtown’s skaters were first featured in an article for Spin magazine, written by original Z-Boy Craig Stecyk. It was noticed by some big time movie makers, keen to turn his true story into celluloid fiction.

Another original Z-Boy, Stacey Peralta, decided that in order to retain the true history of the Dogtown legend, it was better to do it himself and so together with Stecyk and renowned extreme kayak filmmaker Agi Orsi as producer, they turned their back on the Hollywood heavyweights. Their gamble paid off as Dogtown is now a cult classic that won the audience and director’s award in the documentary category at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival.

Orsi said producing a film where the true-life stars are the subject matter was challenging as well as rewarding.

"The Z-Boys are so passionate about their past and it was really important to them they were portrayed in the correct way, but when you saw what they did and heard their stories, it wasn’t so difficult to do," she said.

The biggest hurdle was during the aftermath.

"People didn’t know how big it was going to be, and when something succeeds, everyone wants more," said Orsi.

So does she have any advice for budding skate or snow filmmakers?

"It’s important that if you do document a sport to not only get the action, but to get the athletes and their own accounts. That’s what makes it personal and interesting."

Whistler Film Festival director, Shauna Hardy said it was obvious why both films received such high accolades on the film festival circuit.

"Their success is due in part to their unique story lines and incredible cinematography. I also think that audiences are seeking a more enriched and adventurous film experience, which these unique topics provide," she said.

Norman Cohn and Agi Orsi will be panelists at the WFF’s digital film-making workshop titled Digital Middle: above and below the on Saturday, Dec. 7, 8:30-11:30 a.m.

Both will also be making guest appearances at their film screenings and Orsi will be on the Adventure Filmmaking Panel.

Other independent features during the festival include Farewell Letters , a moving short about Robert F. Scott’s historic and fatal expedition to the South Pole. The Last Husky recounts the demise of the husky era in Antarctica, and The Land That Time Forgot takes you to the remote glaciers of Antarctica with a group of eager boarders and skiers.

Other notable documentary submissions include Bombies by Vancouver’s Jack Silberman, which addresses the problem of unexploded American cluster bombs in northern Laos, and Wade Davis: The Explorer follows the anthropologist and best-selling author on a river trip in Northern B.C. and Alaska to Inca ruins in the Peruvian Andes.

Tickets to the Whistler Film Festival are available at MY Place, Nesters Market and Bestsellers, or via the Whistler Information & Activity Centre charge-by-phone line 604-938-2769.