Playing with the big kids 

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

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The "maverick spirit" has as much to do with where the Whistler Film Festival is headed as to where it is right now. While insiders know it’s the business deals that are the building blocks of a festival’s success, the mainstream perception is that a successful fest is the sum of its celebrity guests. But having a high measure of red carpet exclusivity is not necessarily a sign that an event has arrived, and deciding not to actively court celebs can be the road less traveled that makes all the difference. Take, for example, the highly esteemed Telluride Film Festival, in the comparable mountain resort town of Telluride, Colorado, which is known as an egalitarian occasion for true cineastes. There are no free passes for media and stars are made to stand in line with the ticket holding masses. (Don’t try "don’t you know who I am" in Telluride – it will get you absolutely nowhere.) The program, including special tributes, is kept secret, even from the press, until the official festival launch. And for this blatant celebrity blasphemy, this eschewing of the element of glitz and glam, Telluride has not been brushed off, but rather rewarded with a loyal following, a storied 32-year history, buzz-worthy programming and a list of sponsors that reads like a Forbes 500 feature. You don’t go to Telluride to be seen, you go to see films. And for that particular festival, it has worked just fine.

At this point in the life of the Whistler Film Festival Evans will admit he finds the Telluride model very attractive, and somewhat realistic and attainable. "I don’t think our festival is ever going to be a big schmoozy red carpet kind of thing. It’s more about ‘white carpet,’" he quips, adding, "we want to include everybody. No tuxedos; it’s Whistler chic." Although he emphasizes it is definitely too early in the game to officially declare festival policy as such. Should the A-List stars and the resulting paparazzi come calling to future Whistler film festivals, "it wouldn’t be such a bad thing," Evans muses. "I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it."

For first-timer Fleming, there are no expectations, only a vague perception that the four-day Whistler Film Festival lends itself to a party atmosphere and will provide a refreshing opportunity for films that would have to scrape and beg for attention at a larger festival to have their merits duly noted. In any case, she says she is impressed by the ambitious filmmaker forum programming, which has definite potential to turn Whistler into a festival to be reckoned with. "All it takes is a couple of ideas and anything can happen," she says, considering that "in Toronto, the emphasis used to be on independent Canadian films... so who knows what Whistler will be in another 10 years."

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