Big gains and growing pains 

Whistler Film Festival looks back on big number four

The Whistler Film Festival will forever remember 2004 as the year of the growth spurt.

At the tender age of four the festival watched its submission rate increase more than 100 per cent from the year before and introduced two major prize competitions with awards in the tens of thousands of dollars. A total of 92 films were screened, up from 40 in 2003.

Unfortunately, as any gangly teenaged boy tripping over his new shoes will tell you, with a growth spurt comes growing pains. The bane of Whistler’s spurt was a squirrelly DigiScreen projection system. The Montreal-developed technology digitizes films and runs them as a program, explained festival programming director Bill Evans, but due to faulty encoding weeks before the system had arrived several films, most notably The Love Crimes of Gillian Guess and Being Caribou , began running out of sync. Love Crimes was hit the hardest, and the festival arranged for a re-screening on Sunday evening.

"We had to trust that it would be done properly and it wasn’t," Evans said, "it left us with egg on our face. If there’s a lesson for next year we really have to build in time to test everything."

Despite the glitches, Evans stands by the DigiScreen technology and the festival’s decision to use it.

"Part of the festival has always been showcasing new technology," Evans said. "The positive side of it is every other film that we screened. I think that it will be the norm in the future, within the next five years."

Tech-wars aside there were a multitude of shining moments in this year’s festival. The inaugural Philip Borsos Award for best Canadian feature film went to B.C.-based documentary maker Kenny Hotz for his wacky tongue in cheek film about hanging out at a World Catholic Youth rally with the goal of meeting Pope John Paul II.

The announcement at the Sunday awards brunch was preceded by an emotional reading by Borsos’s widow, Barrett Borsos, of an e-mail from Donald Sutherland, star of her husband’s film Bethune, that praised the late director’s vision and dedication.

Hotz thanked "The Grey Fox", referring to both Borsos and his most renowned film, and "the blond fox", referring to actor and jury member Deborah Kara Unger.

Appearing slightly dazed after leaving the stage the $10,000 award’s first ever recipient exclaimed that he plans to "milk this puppy for all it’s worth," and will return to future festivals, describing the Whistler experience as "booze, buds, broads and bacon."

Unger, a seasoned veteran of multiple acclaimed Canadian and American independent films, said her experience on the Borsos jury had been positive.

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