WFF: new venues, more screenings 

The 12th annual event also includes big-name stars

click to enlarge FEATUREFLASH / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM - DANIEL RADCLIFFE

There will be more opportunities than ever this year for the public, press and industry to screen the Whistler Film Festival's diverse lineup.

Organizers increased screenings to 69 for the public and 28 for their working counterparts, up from 45 screenings in total last year. "That's a big change," says Shauna Hardy Mishaw, executive director of the Whistler Film Festival Society. "This is going to be a really big transition year for us... It's much more accessible to the public."

Running from Nov. 28 until Dec. 2, the festival's new director of programming, Paul Gratton, has also added more non-competitive categories to the roster, including American Indies with independent film from south of the border; Discoveries, featuring directors to watch; GKIDS animation showcase, which includes four Oscar-nominated animated features from around the world and Gratton's labour of love, the Late Night Terror Fest.

"It's my first year as programmer, so I wanted to have a very eclectic selection that would help guide subsequent years," Gratton says. "I thought there were some elements you find at certain film festivals that hadn't been covered locally."

Like the additional screenings, the new streams were created to offer something for everybody and attract locals along with film buffs.

"The late night horror stream is clearly modelled after Midnight Madness, a very successful strand in the Toronto Film Festival," Gratton adds. "I thought that could have particular appeal to the many workers in town who probably aren't auteur film festival people. We should give them a reason to come out to the festival too."

Gratton also speaks excitedly about the unconventional GKIDS films, which sound like they fall somewhere between high art and cartoon. Some have subtitles and aren't suitable for young children unless they're particularly film savvy, he says. The production company's CEO and founder Eric Beckman will be honoured for his success producing animated films that fall outside the studio system with a Trailblazer award.

Rashida Jones (The Office, Parks and Recreation, I Love You Man) will also receive a Trailblazer for acting and scriptwriting. Meanwhile, Variety, an industry trade publication that has chosen the festival as one of 30 festivals to endorse, is also shining the spotlight on 10 screenwriters to watch in a panel discussion.

Arguably the biggest star (that's been announced, so far) scheduled to attend the festival: Harry Potter, a.k.a. Daniel Radcliffe, who will participate in a discussion about his prolific, young career. "He's one of the most recognizable people in the world," Hardy Mishaw says. "We have invited him to the festival because we think he's a really young, amazing talent. I would venture to say the best is yet to come from Daniel Radcliffe."

There are several other important events taking place as part of the festival, including the eight competitive categories of films in which winners are awarded over $30,000, and the groundbreaking China Canada Gateway for Film Script Competition. (See page 88 for a full story on that inaugural event.)

For Hardy Mishaw, the months leading up to the event have been spent trying to secure $2.7 million in funding to renovate the Rainbow Theatre, which would serve as the centre of the festival with state-of-the-art technology. She has said that festival could fizzle without it.

This year, festival screenings will take place in the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre, the Rainbow Theatre, Whistler Conference Centre and Millennium Place. "The struggle with the Rainbow Theatre is not over," Hardy Mishaw says. "It's a critical success factor for us. We have some very big challenges related to our venues. If we really want to be one of the top film festivals in the world we have to have venues that can support that. It's kind of like having the Olympic Games and not having Olympic venues. It's very challenging."

Check next week's Pique for coverage on the films that will be screening at the festival.

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