‘Canada’s Coolest Film Festival’ Wraps

Whistler Film Festival closes its 17th edition with more high-profile premieres, attendees, and talent than ever before. DARKEST HOUR wins the WFF Audience Award.


Whistler, B.C. (December 6, 2017): The 17th edition of the Whistler Film Festival (WFF) wrapped Sunday night, living up to its reputation as ‘Canada’s coolest film fest’ with more premieres, filmmakers, industry executives and celebrities in attendance than ever before, with unique experiences ranging from live music to mountain top events. Cinematic excellence remained at the heart of the Whistler Film Festival.

With more than 1,000 submissions, festival goers experienced 87 fresh films (46 features and 41 shorts) from over 15 countries, including leading award season fare, meritable Canadian content and more female directed films than ever before. WFF remained true to its mandate of discovering new talent, with the inclusion of 16 first time feature films, 14 feature films directed by women (representing 30% of this year’s feature film programming), and with 67% of its program premiering Canadian features – which is more than any other international Canadian film festival. Plus, WFF’s juries featured some of the industry’s top talent, who awarded 16 awards and $155,500 in cash prizes and commissions.

The Whistler Film Festival’s Audience Award, sponsored by Tim Hortons, went to Joe Wright’s DARKEST HOUR, starring Gary Oldman and Lily James. Endorsed by Winston Churchill’s estate, the film tells the story of Churchill’s refusal to engage in peace treaty negotiations with Nazi Germany during WWII, and his determination to fight on against incredible odds. The WFF Audience Award runner-ups were the Western Canadian premieres of I, TONYA,  directed by Craig Gillespie and starring Margot Robbie, about disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding, followed by TULIPANI: LOVE, HONOUR, AND A BICYCLE, from Oscar Winner Mike Van Diem with the Netherlands, Italy, and Canada co-production. The WFF Audience Award is a non-cash prize presented to the highest-rated film as voted by the audience.

“We were very fortunate to open this year’s fest with the Western Canadian premiere of DARKEST HOUR, a film we are convinced will be a major contender in this year’s awards season race,” said Paul Gratton, WFF Director of Programming. “The festival took off from there, with many sold out screenings, packed and newsworthy industry sessions, and almost 400 guests who made a point of trekking out to Whistler to support their films and talk business with the high-level movers and shakers also in attendance. 2017 represented another step forward towards establishing the Whistler Film Festival as the coolest film fest in the world.”

Total attendance for this year’s fest was 14,207 attendees (2% increase) with 87 films presented in 95 screenings. This included 7,623 film-screening attendees and 2,448 special event attendees (four Signature Series, two Music Showcases, ShortWork Showcase, Festival Party, Women on Top, Awards Celebration and Opening and Closing Parties), in addition to 2,720 Summit attendee, 468 talent program attendees and 948 delegates. Several of the feature films were at or near capacity, including: DARKEST HOUR, DISASTER ARTIST, I TONYA, THE MOMENT, PRODIGALS, HOCHELAGA, STORY OF A GIRL, BECOMING BURLESQUE, JUGGERNAUT, and BUDAPEST NOIR.

Designed to facilitate international alliances and financial partnerships, WFF’s Industry Summit program presented 27 interactive sessions that addressed a range of issues affecting the film, television, and digital media industry. Overall Summit attendance was at 72% capacity with 2,720 total attendees including 948 delegates (3% increase). The Whistler Summit directly connects to WFF’s slate of 11 talent development programs designed to provide creative and business immersion experiences for 81 Canadian artists including its Feature Project Lab, Praxis Screenwriters Lab, Aboriginal Filmmaker Fellowship, Power Pitch,  Digital First Lab, Doc Lab, Stars to Watch and Music Showcase. WFF also collaborates with several industry organizations to host specific third party initiatives at the Whistler Summit including the Women in the Director’s Chair Industry Immersion, Women in Film & Television Film Market Preparation Mentorship, and the MPPIA Short Film Award Pitch with the Motion Picture Production Industry Association and Creative BC. New this year, WFF’s Power Pitch took place aboard the Peak to Peak Gondola, with Carmen Forsberg and her project BOUNDARY COUNTRY, who was a participant in WFF’s Feature Project Lab and the wild card among the producers, taking home the Power Pitch Prize of $1,000 cash and a $10,000 post production prize sponsored by Encore Vancouver.

WFF industry programming made a focus to schedule more one-on-one meetings and roundtables for summit and lab participants which included 501 scheduled meetings (2% increase). There was also a notable increase in unscheduled meetings that took place outside of WFF’s programmed blocks. With guest experts attending from across Canada and the USA, the Whistler Film Festival remains a place for the industry to meet and do business and includes some of the top talent and executives in the business.

Receiving WFF’s Career Achievement Award and Tribute, beloved American actor, Bill Pullman discussed his extensive acting career spanning stage, film and television, with CTV Film Critic Jim Gordon, followed by the Canadian Premiere of his latest film, THE BALLAD OF LEFTY BROWN. Award winning actor Kyra Sedgwick has conquered stage, screen and television. Sedgwick is WFF’s Artist Spotlight honouree and Luminary Award recipient, which recognizes a sublime artist whose body of work continues to inspire while shining a light on meaningful storytelling. Sedgwick attended WFF with the Canadian premiere and her directorial debut, STORY OF A GIRL, which stars Ryann Shane alongside Sedgwick’s husband and daughter Kevin and Sosie Bacon, was originally produced for Lifetime and is based on a novel by Sara Zarr. Sedgwick discussed her career and directorial experience which displays a delicate sensitivity directing a young cast that has to deal with sensitive material at a time when stories like these are more important than ever with Canadian television and radio personality, George Stroumboulopoulos.

To celebrate Canada’s 150, WFF’s Artist Conversation: Canada 150 Spotlight on Talent featured four Canadian actors to watch who attended the fest with their latest films in conversation hosted by Canadian television and radio personality, George Stroumboulopoulos. The roster included Rossif Sutherland (TRENCH 11), Amanda Crew (JUGGERNAUT), and Shiva Negar (BECOMING BURLESQUE), all of which are WFF Alumni having attended previous fests except for Shiva Negar and Kevin Zegers (SOMEONE ELSE’S WEDDING) who, at the last minute, was unable to attend.

The Whistler Film Festival proudly hosted the Variety 10 Screenwriters to Watch for the sixth consecutive year hosted by Variety Vice President and Executive Editor, Steven Gaydos. This year’s slate of screenwriters in attendance included Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan – co-wrote “Chappaquiddick”, Maggie Betts – “Novitiate”, Dorothy Blyskal – “The 15:17 to Paris”, Samuel V. Franco and Evan Kilgore – co-wrote “Keeper of the Diary”, and John Whittington  – “Lego/Batman.

To top it all off, Julia Sarah Stone (ALLURE, aka A WORTHY COMPANION), Jessica Parker Kennedy (SOMEONE ELSE’S WEDDING) Tiera Skovbye(PRODIGALS), and Tyler Johnston (STORY OF A GIRL) were recognized as WFF’s Stars to Watch sponsored by UBCP/ACTRA at WFF’s Awards Celebration, and all had their latest films premiering at the fest.

Over 376 filmmakers including actors, producers, writers, directors, and industry executives were part of the 17th Whistler Film Festival including an impressive lineup of star-studded guests and honourees. Additional notable talent confirmed with films premiering at the fest included: David Alpay(PRODIGALS), Sara Canning (PRODIGALS), Delphine Roussell (actor PORCUPINE LAKE), Ingrid Veninger (director PORCUPINE LAKE), Erin Karpluk (actor A SWINGERS WEEKEND), Hannah Cheesman (actor, director, writer THE DEFINITES), Mackenzie Donaldson (Director, Producer THE DEFINITES), Brad Dryborough (PRODIGAL DAD), Linwood Barclay(Author and Writer NEVER SAW IT COMING), Eva Gardos (Director BUDAPEST NOIR), Pat Kiely (director SOMEONE ELSE’S WEDDING), and Alan Zweig (Director THERE IS A HOUSE HERE).

A team of 148 volunteers contributed over 1,610 hours of time to support the festival’s success.

The Whistler Film Festival is funded by the Government of Canada through Telefilm Canada and Western Economic Diversification, and by the Province of British Columbia and the Resort Municipality of Whistler, is supported by the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation and the American Friends of Whistler, and is sponsored by Variety, Creative BC, The Harold Greenberg Fund, the Canadian Media Producers Association, Cineplex, SW Event Technology, Remax Sea to Sky Real Estate, Whistler Blackcomb, Tourism Whistler, and the Westin Resort & Spa Whistler.

The Whistler Film Festival Society (WFFS) is a cultural charitable organization dedicated to advancing the art of film by providing programs that focus on the discovery, development and promotion of talent culminating with a must attend festival for artists, the industry and audiences in Whistler. WFFS produces one of Canada’s leading film festivals and industry Summits, and plays a leadership role in offering project development programs for Canadian artists. Find out more at whistlerfilmfestival.com.