Heir independent 

The Whistler Film Festival and the Sundance ambition

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The move toward acquiring industry attention is evident in the shift in focus of this year’s Filmmaker Forum. Last year was primarily focused on accessible filmmaking technologies in the digital age. This year’s forum moves distinctly toward navigating the industry and includes a producer panel called Show Me the Money and a session on launching a marketing campaign. There’s also a roundtable with key Canadian distributors and acquisitions executives discussing what they look for in a project and what can make or break a deal, and a seminar on "Navigating Hollywood." Among the guest panelists is James Skotchdopole, executive producer of the Nora Ephron film Bewitched .

A more vibrant business scene is what is needed to attract the industry types who can boost a festival’s reputation, says Margo Langford, president of Vancouver-based CineClix, a company formed in February 2003 to sell digital downloads of festival films. Langford attended the Whistler Film Festival in 2003 and her first Sundance in January 2004, where she was privy to a small private "buyers only" screening of a documentary showing the making of The Motorcycle Diaries , a Walter Salles road movie about the young Che Guevera. (The film is also screening at the Whistler festival on Thursday, Dec. 2.)

"Robert Redford was there to introduce the film, and he got reminiscing beforehand about the early days (of Sundance)," Langford said. "I can see a definite parallel with Whistler from his stories."

However, it’s the "trade show" aspect of Whistler that has a ways to go, Langford said, citing a specific need for more industry lounges, meeting spots, speakers, and general socializing. While she hesitates to lend the Sundance of the North title to Whistler right now, the potential is there, she says, aided by the intimacy of the Whistler locale, similar to Sundance, as opposed to the atmosphere at a large metropolitan festival such as Toronto.

Ah Toronto. No matter how hard Whistler works and how gorgeous the location and how much any movers and shakers in the film business want to ski, there will always be the world-renowned Toronto International Film Festival to claim first among the Canadian events.

Johnson, who literally "wrote the book" on the Toronto International Film Festival, maintains that that city will always be the launch pad for top Canadian indie cinema ("your Egoyans, your Arcands"). But the sheer size of the event means year after year, good films are missed.

"For a small film, why not launch it in Whistler?" Johnson said. "Especially if you have a crack at a $10,000 prize, which for a lot of indie filmmakers is a lot of money.

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