The votes are in and the winners have been unveiled at the 21st annual Whistler Film Festival (WFF).
Running in person from Dec. 1 to 5 and online until the end of the month, this year’s hybrid festival saw Jeffrey St. Jules’ psychological thriller, Cinema of Sleep, come away with the event’s top prize, the vaunted Borsos Award for Best Canadian Feature, along with a $15,000 cash prize and a $20,000 post-production prize.
The film tells the story of Anthony, played by Dayo Ade, a Nigerian refugee staying in a motel room while his asylum claim is processed, only to wake from a strange dream in which he is watching a film of himself being arrested for the murder of a woman, and finding her actually dead in the bed next to him.
The jury called the film “a cinematic dive into the fractured, unconscious mind of a drowning refugee. Driven by powerful performances, this film uses the language of film noir to explore one of the most compelling issues of our times in an inventive, weirdly entertaining and entirely surprising way.”
Ade was also awarded the Best Performance in a Borsos Competition Film for his role in Cinema of Sleep, with cast mate Getenesh Berhe earning honourable mention. Judges called his performance “nuanced, subtle, powerful and flawless,” while they commended Berhe for her “evocative” portrayal: “Her performance takes us on an emotional roller coaster, and we are with her every step of the way.”
Unanimous winner of the Best Director of a Borsos Competition Film was Luc Picard, who also starred in Confessions of a Hitman, which retells the story of the ‘90s-era biker wars in Quebec, “and in doing so reveals the atypical personality of a hitman,” the jury wrote. “This true story is brought to life with a cast skilfully led by the director.”
Best Screenplay in a Borsos Competition Film went to Sarah Fortin for Nouveau Quebec. The screenplay “delicately observes the disintegration of two lovers taken our of their comfort zone, against the atmospheric backdrop of a nearly extinct Canadian mining town grappling with complex, Indigenous realities,” the jury said.
Taking home the award for Best Cinematography in a Borsos Competition Film was Diego Guijarro for his work in Carmen, directed by Valerie Buhagiar. The judges called his cinematography “reminiscent of the great European films of the past.” They said his work in the film was “breathtaking, even magical, and draws in the viewer from the first frame.”
On the non-fiction side, the World Documentary Award was presented to Poly Styrene: I am a Cliché, directed by Celeste Belle and Paul Sng. The jury said the film “redefines the music doc genre and uses it to illuminate racism and the lack of support for mental wellness in a seamless and intimate experience.”
A hit with local audiences, BURIED won the Best Mountain Culture Film Award, with honourable mention going to Precious Leader Woman. Directed by Jared Drake and Steven Siig, BURIED documents an unprecedented snow storm—and ski patrol team that had to deal with the aftermath—from 1982 in Tahoe City, Calif that demolished the resort’s base lodge and left several people buried.
“BURIED is a truly stunning piece that takes a hard look at our relationship to mountains, to loss that endures, and the risks we take in mountain places,” the judges said. “It is a masterful cinematic journey into a world of grief, trauma and hope.”
In all, $74,500 in cash and prizes have been awarded at the 2021 WFF. Organizers will announced the Audience Award winner on Dec. 28. For the full list of winners, visit whistlerfilmfestival.com.
“I want to thank the juries for the time and care that they brought to their tasks this year,” said WFF programming director Paul Gratton in a release. “It was a year in which a wide variety of styles and subject matter, with emerging voices holding their own alongside more experienced filmmakers and vital voices coming from all corners of our country, made the decision-making particularly challenging. Congratulations to all the winners. Bravo!”
All the award-winners and other WFF online films are available to stream until Dec. 31 at watch.whistlerfilmfestival.com.