Visitors to the Whistler Film Festival have the chance to preview The Disaster Artist, where it screens twice. The festival opens Wednesday (November 29) with Gary Oldman’s Oscar-courting performance as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, although it was a light year in general for high-profile releases, according to the WFF’s Paul Gratton. And that’s hardly a bad thing.
“It’s the strongest slate of American indie films that I’ve ever had,” notes the veteran director of programming, calling the Georgia Straight from Toronto. There’s his acquisition of The Ballad of Lefty Brown, to give just one example, a title handled south of the border by sizzling-hot distributor A24 but still lacking a deal in Canada. (Star Bill Pullman will be honoured at Whistler for what many are calling a career-best effort in the vein of The Hero.)
Metawesterns aside, Gratton adds that the focus in both international and Canadian features this year trends toward alternative and transgressive lifestyles, as in the Québécois transgender dramedy Venus or the stereotype-bashing Becoming Burlesque, about a Muslim woman’s adventures inside the world of bump and grind. For obvious reasons, he says, we’ve entered an era in which people are moved “to very publicly define themselves in terms of what they believe and what they stand for”.
With an attendant increase in the number of films made by women, here are five programmer picks from a festival that continues to make good on its promise of a “cool” take on the big-screen scene.
Porcupine Lake The latest from Toronto’s Ingrid Veninger came about when actor Melissa Leo agreed to provide seed money to the filmmaker at 2013’s WFF. “This is a film that deals with that ineffable magic moment where a young, about-to-be-adolescent girl falls madly in love with her closest girlfriend for life,” says Gratton, who believes it’s one of the Modra director’s best films. “We’ve all witnessed it, but I can’t think of too many movies that have tried to actually get into it.”
Ordinary Days The Rashomon device of multiple perspectives has been overused in cinema, but Ordinary Days employs three different directors, including Jordan Canning, to build its prismatic take on the disappearance of a college student. “I just think if you’re a young filmmaker walking out of this, you’re gonna go ‘Wow…’”
Bernard and Huey “I like to challenge the audience with at least one film a year where people might go, ‘I think I was just offended,’” Gratton says with a chuckle about a project that began with a 30-year-old script by Jules Feiffer and now stars David Koechner and Jim Rash as sexually competitive midlifers. “It’s brilliant, but the ugliness of the misogyny, what comes out of their mouths, probably reflects a lot of the behaviours we’re seeing revealed in the sex scandals that are going around now.”
Mobile Homes Imogen Poots drastically unpretties herself as “the worst mother you can imagine” for a Canada-France coproduction set inside the most marginalized of Maritime communities, one of the few domestic films to play at Cannes. Gratton cites Poots’s “incredible” performance in “a sort of Canadian version of the kitchen-sink drama, like if The Florida Project had been made without the kids”.
There is a House Here Even with Inuk rock singer Lucie Idlout as his guide, Alan Zweig was met with suspicion when he showed up in Inuvik intending to document life in the northern community. “He introduces his own biases and prejudices and reflects on them as he tries to get people to open up and not just give him pat answers. And it’s very clear that, initially, they really have no use for him,” Gratton says, adding that the “extremely charged” film is marked by the Hurt filmmaker’s characteristically “blistering” honesty.
The Whistler Film Festival takes place from Wednesday (November 29) to next Sunday (December 3). Find more information at www.whistlerfilmfestival.com.More