LOS ANGELES, Nov 28, (RTRS): The Whistler Film Festival, which dubs itself as Canada’s “coolest” film fest, may have just gotten a shade cooler. In time for its 15-year anniversary, the event has landed the Canadian premiere of Oscar hopeful “Carol” for opening night, Dec 2.
Since industry vet Paul Gratton took the reins as the fest’s director of programming in June 2012, there’s been a snowball effect. That year, Whistler opened with Michael McGowan’s “Still Mine,” followed by Jason Priestley’s directorial debut, “Cas & Dylan,” starring Richard Dreyfuss and Tatiana Maslany.
The next year, Gratton scored a coup with the Western Canada premiere of “The Imitation Game.”
This year, “Carol” ups the ante once more. The period pic, directed by Todd Haynes, based on a Patricia Highsmith novel, is toplined by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.
“You can see the progression and you can see how the distributors are beginning to see the value of Whistler,” Gratton says. He adds that the fest’s timing, which is strategic in its proximity to awards season and a key point in film release schedules, is not inconsequential.
His vision for the future: “More and more of that.”
Among this year’s selections: 10 features directed by women; the Canadian premiere of Robert Carlyle’s directorial debut, “The Legend of Barney Thomson”; Chet Baker biopic “Born to Be Blue” with Ethan Hawke; Brian Helgeland’s “Legend”; “Trumbo” with Bryan Cranston; Patricia Sims’ William Shatner-narrated doc, “When Elephants Were Young”; and the world premiere of Frank Henenlotter’s first non-genre film, “Chasing Banksy.” Canadian thriller “Numb,” will close fest on Dec 6.
Gratton wants Whistler to become a mini-Sundance for Canadian films, which account for about half the selections.
“I love that model of having the big American movies draw attention to a showcase where Canadian movies can shine,” he says.
As the festival has grown, it has been attracting more distributors and sales agents to the white peaks of the Canadian Rockies.
Expected industry guests this year include Voltage’s Nicolas Chartier, Radiant Films’ Mimi Steinbauer, Cineplex’s Michael Kennedy, Shoreline’s Morris Ruskin, along with other execs from the likes of Elevation Pictures, Mongrel Media, Shomi and Vimeo.
After 15 years, Whistler has become about more than just skiing. It means business.
Canadian screenwriter Elan Mastai (“What If”) couldn’t have predicted that a chance meeting with scribe Jonathan Tropper at the Whistler Film Festival would result in a $1.25 million sale for his debut sci-fi novel, “All Our Wrongs Today,” and a movie deal with Amy Pascal’s new shingle. But that’s exactly what happened.
Mastai and Tropper were in Whistler in 2013 to take part in Variety’s annual 10 Screenwriters to Watch event. A friendship bloomed and Tropper not only introduced Mastai to his lit agent, whom they now share, but also gave invaluable career advice.
“We don’t get out much, we writers,” jokes Phyllis Nagy (“Carol”), who attended Whistler as part of last year’s 10. When it comes to sharing writing insights, she equates scribes to superstitious baseball players.
“It’s as if you let that information into the ether, it somehow saps your power to do it.”
But, like Mastai, Nagy appreciated a chance to commiserate with fellow scribes, as well as Whistler’s laid-back, calming vibe. “It didn’t feel like anyone was competing with anyone,” she recalls.
“The reality for feature film writers is that you rarely get to spend time with other writers,” Mastai says. “Being able to actually get together with the whole group was a really eye-opening, fascinating, and fun experience.
“I feel very grateful to have been part of it because even now, two years later, this is something that continues to pay dividends for me personally and as a screenwriter.”
“Star Wars” has a Thanksgiving treat for impatient fans — a new, minute-long spot for “The Force Awakens,” which features a better look at Adam Driver’s villainous Kylo Ren, who — while initially believed to be a Sith thanks to his red crossguard lightsaber — has been revealed to be a member of the mysterious Knights of Ren, and a devoted follower of Darth Vader. In one of the new shots, we even see Daisy Ridley’s Rey firing a blaster at Ren, who manages to deflect the shots with his blade.
While the first trailer for the hotly-anticipated sequel began with the ominous voiceover, “There has been an awakening… have you felt it?” the new promo reveals a little more of that conversation, believed to be between Kylo Ren and First Order boss Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), who has remained unseen in the promotional materials for “Episode VII” so far (much like Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker).
The footage also places a greater emphasis on some of the film’s battle scenes, featuring shots of Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron as the X-Wing fighter engages in an explosive dogfight with the First Order’s TIE Fighters.
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” opens in theaters on Dec 18. The film recently received a PG-13 rating, only the second film in the franchise to do so.
“Gods of Egypt” director Alex Proyas and the film’s studio, Lionsgate, have issued apologies for the lack of diverse casting in the mythological action film, which has generated controversy for its predominantly white cast.
Proyas issued a statement apologizing for the lack of racial diversity in the cast on Friday. “The process of casting a movie has many complicated variables, but it is clear that our casting choices should have been more diverse. I sincerely apologize to those who are offended by the decisions we made.”
Lionsgate also acknowledged the need for more inclusive casting in a statement obtained by Variety, which reads: “We recognize that it is our responsibility to help ensure that casting decisions reflect the diversity and culture of the time periods portrayed. In this instance we failed to live up to our own standards of sensitivity and diversity, for which we sincerely apologize. Lionsgate is deeply committed to making films that reflect the diversity of our audiences. We have, can and will continue to do better.”
The public apology stands in contrast to Ridley Scott’s response over a similar controversy prompted by the casting for his Egypt-set epic, “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” which was banned in Egypt for its “historical inaccuracies” last year.
Scott defended his decision to cast white actors Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton in the lead roles of Moses and Ramses as a matter of practicality. “I can’t mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such,” Scott told Variety before the film’s release. “I’m just not going to get it financed. So the question doesn’t even come up.”
21st Century Fox CEO Rupert Murdoch, who owns the studio behind “Exodus,” then poured fuel on the fire when he weighed in on the furor via Twitter, writing, “Moses film attacked on Twitter for all white cast. Since when are Egyptians not white? All I know are.”