Whistler Film Festival 2012: Women dominate top honours at festival awards

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      From female filmmakers to women’s stories and issues, female presence took over almost all the top honours at the Whistler Film Festival’s awards brunch on the closing day of the festival (December 2). A boy's club this clearly is not.

      Toronto director Kate Melville’s debut feature Picture Day, a coming-of-age story about a rebellious teenager forced to repeat her last year of high school, scooped up the $15,000 Borsos Competition for Best Canadian Feature Film.

      The film beat Bernard Edmond’s All That You Possess, Sean Garrity’s two features Blood Pressure and My Awkward Sexual Adventure, Martin Laroche’s Fair Sex (Les manèges humains), Sudz Sutherland’s Home Again, and Michael McGowan’s Still .

      The lead actor of Picture Day, Tatiana Maslany, garnered the new Best Performance in a Borsos Competition Film Award. The jury said they saw Maslany as “an actor who is so fearless, honest, unapologetic, heartbreaking, and hilarious that she is, in our opinion, a force of nature.” (Maslany was unable to attend but Melville accepted the award on her behalf.)

      Marie-Evelyne Lessard’s performance in Fair Sex (Les manèges humains) impressed the jury so much that they gave her a Jury Special prize “for her astonishing turn leading a gifted ensemble in Martin Laroche’s profoundly affecting film, Les manèges humains.” In the film, she portrays a young Quebec woman who is suffering from sexual complications caused by the female genital mutilation she suffered as a child in Africa.

      “A lot of documentaries that talk about that subject go to Africa and we feel disconnected to that. So we wanted to make the character real, subtle, and true. That’s why I was trying to put myself into that character,” Lessard said.

      Karen Cho’s National Film Board of Canada documentary about the state of feminism and women’s rights in Canada, Status Quo?, claimed the World Documentary Award.

      “For intelligence, courage, and ambition, and taking on a massive…task that our own government has failed to address. For tenacious research and analysis, for showing us what has and has not happened for four decades after a certain Royal Commission, we commend the makers of Status Quo? for their extraordinary documentary on the status quo of women,” the jury said.

      As Cho took to the stage, she received a standing ovation. “It was a real honour for us to find a place at a festival that was willing to take a chance on a film like ours, in a time where women in New Brunswick are being blocked access to abortion services, where there’s over 500 missing and murdered indigenous women here in Canada, and where 50 years after the second wave of feminism, women still don’t have a national childcare program, it’s great to see that there’s a place at this festival for art and advocacy to come together,” Cho said, her voice shaking with emotion.

      Another documentary about the challenges that women face won another WFF award. William Kerig’s Ready to Fly, which chronicles the struggles of Lindsey Van, her U.S. teammates, and the Canadian Women’s ski jumping team to get women’s ski jumping included in the Olympics (including a courtcase in Vancouver prior to the 2010 Winter Olympics), took the Mountain Culture Film Award for the strength of its story.

      Several awards were given out for short films. “Drawn From Memory” (Portrait Z Pamieci), about a young man making a documentary about his grandmother’s dream of becoming an actor as she succumbs to dementia, by Polish director Marcin Bortkiewicz won the International Shortwork Award. SFU student Jon Thomas won the $500 Shortwork Student Award for his poignant and emotionally complex “Plating”, about a young man seeking forgiveness by cooking last meals for death-row inmates.

      Jonathan Ng’s 6-minute animated “Requiem for Romance” won the $1,000 Canadian Shortwork Award. We feel that the beauty and originality’s of this film but contemporary but tragic love story that is portrayed in a poetic watercolour and animation juxtaposed against the conflict of martial arts combat between young lovers could not be denied, the jury stated.”

      The MPPIA Short Film Award (which includes $15,000 cash plus up to $100,000 in services) went to Jon Ornoy’s dark comedy about an obsessive window-dresser in “True Love Waits” (which will have its world premiere at next year’s WFF when completed).

      Variety executive editor Steven Gaydos presented Melissa Rosenberg with the Billion Dollar Screenwriter Award for her work on the Twilight Saga film series.

      Gaydos also presented awards to Variety’s 10 Screenwriters to Watch: Katie Dippold (The Heat); Patrick Aison (Wunderkind); Reid Carolin (Magic Mike); Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph (Draft Day); Ted Melfi (St. Vincent de Van Nuys); Derek Connolly (Safety Not Guaranteed); Bill Dubuque (The Judge); Chris Terrio (Argo); Kelly Marcel (50 Shades of Grey); and Ken Scott (Starbuck).

      “These are the people who have the hardest job in the world,” Gaydos said. “People will be talking about their films for a long time to come.”

      The WFF Audience Award will be announced on Tuesday (December 4).

      The festival ends tonight with a closing gala screening of The Sheepdogs Have At It at 8 p.m.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at twitter.com/cinecraig.