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Third Fest the best yet

Whistler Film Festival organizers thrilled with sold-out shows, industry buzz With year number three now solidly underneath it, there can be no doubt amongst organizers, attendees and guests that this year’s Whistler Film Festival was anything b

Whistler Film Festival organizers thrilled with sold-out shows, industry buzz

With year number three now solidly underneath it, there can be no doubt amongst organizers, attendees and guests that this year’s Whistler Film Festival was anything but a roaring success.

"The reality going into this was: is this festival going to survive? You have to have the buy-in, you have to have the support from the community, and it’s there," confirmed festival director and co-founder Shauna Hardy.

A sign things were off to a good start was when pre-festival screenings of Gil Cardinal’s documentary film Totem: Return of the G’psgolox Pole raised $1,350 toward the Haisla Nation’s quest to retrieve a sacred artifact from a Swedish museum.

The official festival kicked off with a bang when both screenings on the launch evening of Thursday, Dec. 4 sold out.

The momentum continued through the weekend. Hardy says out of 23 screenings, eight films sold out completely with five near sellouts. Ivan Hughes’ Squamish-based documentary In the Shadow of the Chief was embraced so enthusiastically, organizers commandeered a second theatre at Village 8 Cinemas reserved for forums and workshops to stage an additional impromptu screening. It was worth the trouble as the film ended up taking home the People’s Choice Award.

While there was the odd technical glitch, that for the most part was dealt with efficiently behind the scenes, organizers were in the coveted situation of having the festival’s biggest problem also be its biggest triumph.

"People were so stoked about the festival," said Program Director Kasi Lubin. "We don’t like having to turn people away, but it’s a sign,"

Both Lubin, a festival co-founder, and Hardy were themselves buzzing about the industry "buzz" the festival generated.

The festival hosted approximately 200 guests, up from 30 in 2002, many of whom took advantage of the slopes. Oregon director Neal Miller, who premiered the film Raising Flagg, was recently quoted in industry vanguard publication Variety saying that the Whistler experience was akin to the early days of Sundance, no empty praise considering the profile of the latter and the similarities between the locales.

Of course, underneath it all was the raison d’être – the films. Committed to showcasing independent Canadian content, the festival introduced a number of emerging talents on the Canadian film scene. Along with Hughes’ climbing epic, Vancouver director Nathaniel Geary’s film On the Corner received the jury’s award for Best Canadian Film, and Yellowknife, NWT-based Matt Frame took home the Best Documentary Award for his first feature Baghdad or Bust, which premiered at the festival to a sold-out theatre.

"You could just tell by the sold out shows that this year was a breakout year. It was great being part of that," said Frame.

The festival’s Passion Party on Saturday evening featuring Toronto organic groove collective The New Deal and performances by the Tommy Africa’s go-go dancer corps was also a sold-out event.

"We’re really, really thrilled with the response," said Hardy. "We reached a real turning point for the festival and we were able to establish that this is a significant cultural event in Whistler. There is interest not only from the community but from people who want to come to the community and experience this type of event."

The community supported the festival with ticket and pass purchases, but also with donated hours. Hardy and Lubin emphasized the festival would not have been able to function without the 70 dedicated volunteers who temporarily bolstered the office staff of six.

With their contribution, the three-year-old event managed to break even and has now been earmarked for government funding, confirmed Lubin, making it a financial, as well as cultural success story. It’s a story with future chapters to write. Even though the last pieces of popcorn have barely been swept up, No. 4 is already in sight and it almost has to be bigger.

"We’d love to see the festival grow, but grow organically, and keep the focus," said Lubin. "The focus is so important to us. We don’t want to be the biggest film festival in the world; we want to be one of the best and carve a niche for ourselves."

Sidebar: Festival Awards

The following films took home awards at the Third Annual Whistler Film Festival, Dec. 4-7.

Best Canadian Film: On the Corner, (Nathaniel Geary, Canada 2003) Determined by festival jury.

People’s Choice Award for the Best Film of the Festival: In the Shadow of the Chief, (Ivan Hughes, Canada 2003) Determined by audience vote.

Best Documentary Award: Baghdad or Bust, (Matt Frame, Canada 2003) Determined by festival jury.

Best Adventure/Action-Sport Film Award: Step Into Liquid, (Dana Brown, USA 2003) Determined by jury, award includes a weeklong whitewater-rafting trip in British Columbia sponsored by Rivers Oceans & Mountains.

Butch Freedhoff Human Spirit Award: Farther than the Eye Can See, (Michael Brown, USA 2003) Determined by the Festival Board of Directors for a filmmaker that best described a moving life story or adventure. Dedicated in memory to Harry "Butch" Freedhoff, sponsored by Segal Communications.

ZeD People’s Choice Shorts Award: The Watchers, (Kevin Shortt, Canada 2003) Determined by audience vote, sponsored by CBC Television’s ZeD. Winner receives $500 and film will be broadcast on ZeD.