Playing with the big kids 

At five years old, the Whistler Film Festival strives to define its identity

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In the backrooms, away from the blinding light of paparazzi flashbulbs, the business side of the TIFF flourished too. Bidding warfare broke out among attending distributors, the most high profile battle being between Paramount Classics and Fox Searchlight over director Jason Reitman’s Thank You For Smoking . The biting satire about shady goings on in the world of big tobacco lobbying starring Aaron Eckhart ended in cunning Fox’s favour.

All in all, the official post-TIFF film sales tally is touted as a record-breaking $52 million (that’s an average of $5.2 million per day for you non-metric system users). The figures were officially announced with a statement from TIFF’s co-director Noah Cowan, declaring the results "confirm Toronto's status as a top-tier festival for international business and deal-making." And that: "international buyers clearly recognize Toronto as one of the world's premiere festivals to discover and buy the best cinema from across the globe."

It’s not just smoke and mirrors; insiders will tell you to believe the hype. "Toronto’s a whirlwind," says Whistler Film Festival co-founder and director Shauna Hardy Mishaw, who chalked up four TIFFs with last September’s attendance. "It’s 10 days. It’s full on. It’s from morning to as late as you’re willing to go. And you’re going from film screenings, to sessions, to meetings, to events. You need a lot of energy. But it’s great. You get an opportunity to connect with top people in the industry. It’s the place to be. You have to go."

Just where was the host country at TIFF 2005? Lost in the international star-studded, mover and shaker shuffle? Au contraire. More like the main event. A higher profile Canadian filmmaker cage match could not have been dreamed up by Don King himself, with Atom Egoyan’s Where the Truth Lies in one corner and David Cronenberg’s A History Of Violence in the other. On top of that, the festival opened with a splash with a screening of Water – prolific indo-Canadian director Deepa Mehta’s highly anticipated addition to her elemental film triptych.

But for the Egoyans, Cronenbergs and Mehtas of tomorrow the TIFF is a much tougher go. Despite making space with film categories Canada First! and Short Cuts Canada, the unassailable truth is that less well-known and up and coming Canadian filmmakers, whose monikers lack the cachet of a certain Armenian surname, can be easily overlooked amidst the massive TIFF hype machine.

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