All sorts of Oscar-worthy blockbusters, Canadian productions and mountain culture flicks are on tap for the 2023 Whistler Film Festival (WFF), but one announcement stands out among the rest: Village 8 is returning.
For a limited time, anyway. WFF organizers are pressing the theatre into service from Nov. 29 to Dec. 3 while the festival runs. The facility closed back on Jan. 5, with former operator Imagine Cinemas citing logistical and staffing issues as their reason for pulling the plug.
The theatre’s screens and projection equipment have so far been left intact.
“We were able to engage in some talks with the owners of the building and have made an arrangement with them to be able to operate the space as a theatre for the duration of the festival,” explains Whistler Film Festival Society (WFFS) executive director Angela Heck. “We will be running three screens in there and it will look exactly the same from a screening perspective as you would have expected at last year's festival. We are bringing in concessions as well, so people will have a full festival experience.”
The Sea to Sky has had to go without a commercial movie theatre since Imagine Cinemas left town. Many were saddened to hear the news, praising the modest multiplex as a weatherproof change of pace to complement Whistler’s bevy of recreational options. For years, Village 8 has been the corridor’s lone source of timely Hollywood entertainment as well as the venue of numerous WFF screenings.
Its closure forced people to look elsewhere for their film fix. Arts Whistler, for instance, put on a handful of shows at the Maury Young Arts Centre and at Olympic Plaza during its summer outdoor movie series. Such ventures could only mitigate the loss of a local gem, but the WFFS was prepared to march on.
“We were prepared to find alternate screening venues,” Heck says. “You have to remember: when the festival started 23 years ago, we were building pop-up venues in the conference center and around the place, so we were looking at those options as well. It was a huge development for us that we were able to proceed with Village 8. It just makes so much more sense.”
It is too early to say whether anyone will continue operating Village 8 in the future, but WFFS decision-makers intend to take a more serious look at available opportunities in time.
Hi again, Hollywood
Befitting the temporary return of Whistler’s lone commercial theatre, the WFFS is making two of 2023’s biggest hits available. Oppenheimer screens Dec. 1 at noon, and Barbie follows suit Dec. 3 at the same time.
The year’s most pervasive cinematic phenomenon has, up until now, passed Whistler by. Barbie leads the worldwide box office with approximately $1.44 billion in revenue, and Oppenheimer is third with just under $947 million. Against the odds, Greta Gerwig’s feminist fantasy comedy meshed well with Christopher Nolan’s solemn study of the man behind the atom bomb, causing audiences to flock to both films—often on the same day.
This unlikely pairing managed to overcome even Tom Cruise, rendering Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One a relative afterthought on the summer movie scene. Now, Sea to Sky denizens will get to experience “Barbenheimer” for themselves.
Five more Oscar candidates are also on their way at the upcoming festival.
Kicking things off Nov. 29 is Maestro. Bradley Cooper directs and stars as American composer Leonard Bernstein, while Carey Mulligan plays Bernstein’s wife Felicia Montealegre in a biographical look at the couple’s marriage and respective careers.
Another major biopic comes in the form of Origin, an Ava DuVernay-helmed production based on Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson’s book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. Aunjanue Ellis stars as Wilkerson as she embarks on a globe-trotting investigative journey into racism, hierarchy and social stratification.
May December brings Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore into the fold. Portman plays an actress who travels to Georgia to study her next role: a woman embroiled in a prolific tabloid romance. Moore co-stars as that very woman, who must subsequently navigate an intrusion into her tempestuous marriage.
American Fiction is the last Best Picture nominee among the WFF’s latest offerings. In it, Jeffrey Wright portrays a novelist who writes an outlandish book to protest cultural stereotypes and reductionist forms of so-called “Black entertainment.”
Meanwhile, Rojek is Canada’s selection for the Best International Feature category. It is a hard-hitting documentary in which director Zaynê Akyol speaks with incarcerated Islamic State (ISIS) members and their wives to learn about their fundamentalist beliefs amidst the Rojava-Islamist conflict in Kurdistan.
“We have attracted a great number of Oscar-worthy films, and, of course, our great Canadian independent features as well,” says Heck. “Our [director of programming] is Paul Gratton and he’s over the moon. He said it's never been a better year for attracting films.”
A growing footprint
Many more projects round out this year’s WFF lineup. Outdoor recreation enthusiasts should note the world premiere of 500 Days in the Wild, chronicling Dianne Whelan’s unprecedented 24,000-kilometre odyssey on the Trans-Canada Trail: Earth’s longest such pathway. Another solid choice in that vein is Adaptation, which documents a group of adaptive mountain bike athletes at the BC Summer Games.
There’s also the Whistler premiere of Solo, voted Best Canadian Feature at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). The Sophie Dupuis-directed story follows a young drag queen as he grapples with a complex romance and a meeting with his estranged mother.
No two seasons are quite alike for the WFF, but Heck and her team continue to proceed as best they can.
“The last three years have been completely unruly, right? We can't say it's business as usual,” she remarks. “This year, the challenge was the [Writers Guild of America] strike and the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike that has really impacted the industry and changed what we were able to access.
“Honestly, without the support [of the Sea to Sky community], it would have been a much rougher ride, especially in the years coming out of the lockdown. We really noticed that the audience in 2021 set us up going into 2022 in a better way.”
Originally a product of COVID-19, the WFF’s online edition is returning again from Dec. 4 to 17. Approximately 80 per cent of festival content will be available remotely, though not movies in the running for major awards.
The WFF brand has expanded across Canada in recent years due in large part to its online aspect. Even Prince Edward Islanders are getting in on the act by way of a new PEI Market Accelerator program designed to mentor Maritime filmmakers as they build their skills.
“It's really one of the foundations of what we do,” says Heck. “By having talent programs that are so closely aligned with opportunities to meet industry professionals, [we help people] develop their projects. Why Whistler and P.E.I.? Well, because the training that we're doing to develop storytellers is working and people are noticing the results.”
Learn more about the 2023 WFF at https://www.whistlerfilmfestival.com/