'I want to scare myself': After 21 years in Whistler, Angie Nolan takes a chance on herself 

Writer, director and educator moving to Vancouver to pursue filmmaking career

click to enlarge Filmmaker, writer and arts educator Angie Nolan is leaving Whistler after 21 years to pursue a filmmaking career in Vancouver. - Photo submitted
  • Filmmaker, writer and arts educator Angie Nolan is leaving Whistler after 21 years to pursue a filmmaking career in Vancouver. Photo submitted

Angie Nolan likes to joke that she's been self-isolating since January. Not because of some Nostradamian premonition of the global pandemic to come, but something more in line with her style: a roller-disco injury.

It was while recuperating in her Easy Street home that Nolan, writer, filmmaker, theatre producer and educator, made the decision she'd been mulling over for months: it was finally time to leave the community she has called home for the past 21 years. "I remember one day just sitting there, not being able to move, and I had this really prolific thought: If I stay here, this is it. I already know this. I'm comfortable with this. I know this really well. It's beautiful. But there's more," she says.

Like so many before her, Nolan felt wrapped in the coziness and convenience of the Whistler bubble. And despite being a tireless creative in her time here, Nolan knew she had yet to hit her artistic peak.

"I haven't reached anywhere near the height of my creativity and I don't think that I can here," she says.

"I want to scare myself. I want to not feel comfortable. I really want to be challenged and I want to work with people that really challenge me, that know more than me, and that work in a bigger pond."

When Nolan first arrived in Whistler full-time in '99, she quickly found a grassroots arts scene that was a major change of pace from what she was used to. "Everyone just sort of says yes here, and I had never seen that," Nolan recalls. "I had come up in the actual film industry and there's a lot of no, no, no.

"So having these opportunities here, I knew I was supposed to do it. It was non-stop. We were just creating. I can't even tell you how many garbage films we made in a year."

She took part in the very first 72-Hour Filmmaker Showdown (a contest she finally won in 2016 after taking pretty much every other award available over the years), found her tribe of weirdos in the B-Grade (now Heavy Hitting) Horror Festival, and was consulted on and performed at the Cultural Olympiad a year before Whistler hosted the Games.

"She was fearless," remembers long-time friend and collaborator Heather Paul, who first cast Nolan in her pantomime rendition of Snow White in 2002. "Especially with pantos, you have to be completely free of worrying about what anybody thinks as you act like an absolute goof. She had absolutely no problem with that. I feel like in a lot of ways, for a lot of plays, Angie was always my secret weapon."

No matter what she was working on, Nolan always found a way to imbue the project with her characteristic ability to see the light in everything. "It could be vapidly disgusting, whatever she's writing, and then there's a line with heart at the core of the message," Paul says. "She has to be serving a purpose for good no matter what comes out of her, whether it be her performance, her writing, her filmmaking or as a friend."

That underlying purpose is evident in Nolan's time at the Whistler Film Festival (WFF) as well. Volunteering at the event's first edition, she worked her way up to become the director of industry programming, helping forge WFF's reputation as one of North America's most filmmaker-friendly festivals. "She absolutely played a major part in our story," said WFF founder and executive director Shauna Hardy Mishaw, who went on to call Nolan "an authentic catalyst" for arts and culture in Whistler.

"She took arts and culture and theatrical and film arts in this community to a level that didn't previously exist."

The 2018 Whistler Champion of Arts & Culture, Nolan is also a sought-after acting and improv coach, with a knack for recognizing things in people they may not even see themselves. To hear her tell it, it's less about the end result for an actor than it is the journey to get there. "What I get out of teaching is those moments you see the breakthrough in somebody's eyes. 'I don't have to be stuck in what I thought I had to be stuck in? I don't have to do that?'" Nolan says. "When you're in it and we're working together and pulling and pushing, I feel like that's for me. It's really for me. It means that I'm making a difference. I know it's just acting, but I feel like in those moments, more than any other place in life, that's where I make a difference."

Now, Nolan sets her sights on a Vancouver film industry she left two decades before, to finally take the chance on herself she has helped grant to so many other creatives over the years. In the days leading up to our interview, I'd been wondering how Nolan would write the story of her time in Whistler. I know it would be filled with warmth and empathy and the natural curiosity of a born storyteller, but I wanted to hear what she thought. She hems and haws, starting and stopping, unable to close the chapter on a story that began so many years ago.

"Whistler just really got in my bones," she says, tears welling in her eyes. "I wouldn't even eloquently be able to describe what Whistler means to me. The other day I realized I can't even write about it yet. It's the story I can't write about yet."

Fitting, considering that in many ways, Nolan's story is only just beginning.

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