After nearly 20 years of bringing incredible cinema to the mountains, the Whistler Film Festival (WFF) is attracting more global attention than ever before.
“We have 15 world premieres out of 43 features,” says WFF Director of Programming Paul Gratton. “Two thirds of our films are Canadian, the highest proportion of any international festival, but we are starting to attract major interest from outside the country.”
With 86 films (43 features and 43 shorts) screening over the 5-day festival, set for December 4-8, 2019, there are many more great films than there is time to watch them and with that in mind the Insider connected with Paul Gratton for an insider’s hit list of must-watch flicks. Enjoy!
Best Blast from the Past: The Grey Fox
“I think this is one of the best films English [speaking] Canada has ever produced,” Gratton says of the 1982 train robbery based on the life of real old west icon Billy Miner. “We have a brand new print, a beautiful print—4K and colour corrected—we had to get it from New York City and this is the world premiere of that print. And it feels so right here since the film was directed by Philip Borsos and his name is on our annual award for Top Canadian film here at the Whistler Film Festival.”
The Grey Fox screens at the Rainbow Theatre at 4:00 PM on Thursday, December 5 and at the Village 8 Cinema at 2:00 PM on Friday, December 6, 2019.
A Perfect Whistler Mountain Culture flick: The Climbers
“Whistler loves mountain climbing movies and this is one of the most astounding mountain climbing films I’ve ever seen. It’s Chinese-made, a fictional film but based on the true story of a Chinese expedition to summit Mt Everest in the 1960s. The leader of the expedition was lost, along with their camera so the remaining climbers couldn’t prove they had made it to the top. The world doubted them and this film is about a follow-up mission to reclaim their pride. It’s got a bit of Chinese [government] propaganda in there but also really stunning landscapes and effects. This is the kind of movie that would never play here if not for the festival, I think the Whistler crowd will love it.”
The Climbers screens at the Rainbow Theatre at 11:45 AM on Friday, December 6 and at the Village 8 Cinemas at 6:15 PM on Sunday, December 8, 2019.
Biggest Stars on Screen: The Irishman
“There is always a portion of the program I specifically gear towards Whistler locals, not just the guests we have coming to town, and this is one of those films. This is Martin Scorsese working with De Niro, Pacino, Pesci . . . it will have already streamed on Netflix by the time the festival starts but I think this is the best picture of the year and people will want to see it on the big screen with big sound. Who doesn’t want 3.5 hours of Scorsese?”
The Irishman screens on the best sound system and projector in town at the Rainbow Theatre at 12:00 PM on Thursday, December 5 and 6:00 PM on Sunday, December 8, 2019.
Weirdest Movie You’ll See This Week: Dreamland
“I think this is the most whacked film Bruce McDonald has ever made,” Gratton says of the iconic Canadian director (and WFF favourite) best known for rock’n’roll movies like Hard Core Logo and Highway 61. “Juliette Lewis stars as a crime queen and Henry Rollins is in it too. There’s a crime story in here but it’s anything but normal and it ends in a wedding scene that’s so sick and demented I can’t even describe it—a vampiric pedophile wedding with all the most evil characters from history invited.”
Dreamland screens at the Rainbow Theatre at 9:00 PM on Thursday, December 5 and at the Village 8 Cinemas at 2:00 PM on Saturday December 7, 2019.
Cinema Quebec!: Menteur / Compulsive Liar
“I know there are a lot of people from Quebec in Whistler so I’m excited about this, the highest grossing Canadian film of the year, and also one of the funniest. It’s a story about a liar, the biggest liar, and one day he wakes up in an alternate universe where every lie he has ever told comes true. He would lie about having a flat tire and now every car he gets in gets a flat, elevators break, pipes burst, he once told someone his job was to stop World War 3 and now that is happening. It’s hilarious and was a massive hit in Quebec. That’s one thing we learned after screening Roma last year, Whistler isn’t afraid of sub-titles.”
Compulsive Liar screens at the Village 8 Cinemas at 7:30 PM on Saturday December 7th, 2019.
Most Timely Subject Matter: Canadian Strain and The Marijuana Conspiracy
“I was astounded at the speed Canadian filmmakers responded to our changing laws. We have two world premieres of films directly related to the legalization of marijuana. Canadian Strain is a drama about a small time dealer put out of business who applies for a government license. It’s a comedy about being street smart and dealing with the silliness of bureaucracy—one day you are a criminal, the next you work for the government.”
Canadian Strain screens at the Village 8 Cinemas at 6:30 PM on Saturday, December 7 and 1:00 PM on Sunday, December 8, 2019
“The Marijuana Conspiracy is based on a true story. Apparently, under the first Trudeau government in the 70s, the feds were thinking about legalization because they couldn’t find any real evidence of harm. So the Ontario government designed a study where they isolated a group of women for 90 days and gave them increasingly stronger doses of pot each day. Just women, in complete isolation for three months, trying to prove stuff that the government believed—like that pot made people unproductive, but some of the women were twice as productive. And some went crazy, so the whole study was suppressed. This film is based on interviews with the women who went through this. This is a world premiere.”
The Marijuana Conspiracy screens at Maury Young Arts Centre at 9:00 PM on Saturday, December 7 and at 3:00 PM at the Village 8 Cinemas on Sunday, December 8, 2019
Great Documentaries: Closing the Gap and Nail in the Coffin
“Nail in the Coffin is really fascinating. It’s about a lucha libre, a Mexican wrestler, who is a big superstar down there but is actually a Canadian from Montreal wrestling under the name ‘The Canadian Vampire.’ He came from the streets and would probably be in jail if not for the wrestling. But he’s had a lot of head injuries and is older, and now he’s showing signs of dementia but he still gets in the ring to raise money to support his daughter. The film starts hard and turns tender, very surprising tender moments in amongst this screaming bundle of raging hormones. I always look for those unexpected aspects of a movie.”
Nail in the Coffin screens at the Village 8 Cinemas at 6:30 PM on Friday, December 6 and at 1:00 PM on Saturday, December 7, 2019.
“Closing the Gap: Hockey in North Korea is another doc where a Vancouver crew was given unparalleled access to a North Korean hockey team travelling to a tournament in New Zealand. It’s really interesting—they show up with shoddy equipment, when a player gets injured the North Korean government wants to fly him home immediately rather than get treatment there. But if there is one way for us to get to know another country, it’s through hockey.”
Closing the Gap screens at the Village 8 Cinemas at 6:30 PM on Thursday, December 5 and 12:00 PM on Friday, December 6, 2019.
Best Thriller: Locusts
“Another example of how the world is discovering this festival, Locusts is a kick-ass thriller set in the Australian outback. There is a recurring theme of ‘the outback’ in Aussie cinema. This one is about a guy returning to a small town and realizing all the locals are insane. Whistler has a lot of Aussies and this is the Canadian premiere so this should be a lively one.”
Locusts screens at Maury Young Arts Centre at 5:00 PM on Thursday, December 5 and at the Village 8 Cinema at 2:30 PM on Sunday, December 8, 2019.
Gratton could go on all day. It’s obvious he has an ingrained love for cinema, but also for the Whistler Film Festival and how it has evolved over the years. “I’m blown away by all the talent coming to town,” he says. “We have whole teams coming to support their films and a lot of that is Whistler, people want to come here. It’s one of the most beautiful settings for a festival and the word of mouth is getting out about how easy it is to meet people and make connections here. There are a lot of movies concentrated over four days, and a lot of times where you will want to be in two places at once. I try to be sensitive with the scheduling but there’s just too many great movies!”
How many can you watch?