By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
The Whistler Film Festival is a jam-packed five-day event taking place north of Vancouver, British Columbia. Established in 2001, local talents and industry bigwigs are here not only to ski but also look at the spotlight of refreshing new talents. This show is not for star spotting. I visited this resort to marvel at the Milky Way and get back to Nature; though for others, to mingle with the likes of Kim Cattrall, Ryan Reynolds or Jason Priestley is more enticing. Even Hollywood’s elite might be here looking for the next big thing.
With no surprise, Mary: Queen of Scots is the gala film. Saoirse Ronan plays the title role, and Margot Robbie is Queen Elizabeth I. Both are rivals for the throne, and for who gets it, they can look at John Guy’s book Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart, which posits the theory that Mary and Elizabeth actually met and planned how to rule. Their on-screen tête-à-tête is one to marvel at.
To revisit this mountain resort town has been on my list for a while, and this year has enough reasons for me to go. The following are my genre picks which caught my eye.
The summaries are from this event’s website:
Anna and the Apocalypse
Nov 29 8:30pm
Squamish Cultural Center
Sun, Dec 02, 9:00am
Okay, so you want to see something different at a film festival. How about a Scottish Christmas musical zombie movie? Yup. Shaun of the dead meets Glee. This is the wackiest premise for a film since Trey Parker’s Cannibal The Musical (1993) or Darren Lynn Bousman’s The Devil’s Carnival (2012). When a zombie apocalypse threatens the town of little haven at Christmas time, Anna and her teen friends have to slash, decapitate and sing their way through an assortment of undead snowmen, elves, Santas and Christmas shoppers just to make it across town to the safe haven of their high school. The singing and dancing are show-stoppingly good at times as if the players are auditioning for a Broadway play. And if you are a truly twisted soul, maybe this will even put you in the Christmas spirit.
[Editor’s note: This movie will play at select theatres beginning Dec 7 courtesy of Orion Pictures. Please check local listings]
Elijah and the Rock Creature
Dec 02 4:00pm
Village 8 Cinema
A delightful family film that structurally resembles E.T., but on a tiny fraction of the budget. It demonstrates what great costume design and luminescent photography can accomplish when filtered through the eyes of visual artist and painter Jennifer Walden in her first feature, shot near Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories.
Elijah and his mother are grieving a loss when they decide to see the stars in Wood Buffalo National Park, the largest dark sky preserve in the world. Elijah gets separated from his party and wanders the beautiful but marker-less landscape, frightened and lost. Along the way, he encounters a mythological rock creature “from beyond the stars”, who is also trying to find his way home. Together, they become a team. But when Elijah tries to explain the existence of his extraterrestrial guide, the folks back home assume he is suffering from hallucinations.
Using mostly local talent, with a particular nod to costume designer Adrienne Cartwright, this is proof that resonant stories can be made in any part of this country, and it marks the arrival of a major new directorial talent on the Canadian scene.
At Eternity’s Gate
Nov 28, 9:00pm
Nov 30, 12:00pm
Willem Dafoe is Vincent van Gogh. With his sunken cheeks and haunted eyes, it is difficult to imagine any other actor in the role. The film, directed by acclaimed artist Julian Schnabel (Basquiat, The Diving Bell & the Butterfly), focuses on Van Gogh’s final months, living hand to mouth in the south of France. He drinks too much, is extremely productive, but fails to connect with the locals, who taunt him and tease him. His artistic response to the beauty of the country around him continues to inspire him, even as his daily life and very survival become more difficult. Using lighting and natural settings, Schnabel successfully evokes the artist’s unique way of seeing the world around him. The nature of genius, and of artistic obsession is captured with deep insight in this oft-told story, but it is Dafoe’s performance as Van Gogh that will stay with you, long after the final images from the film have faded. This is the film’s first festival showing in Canada.
Nov 30, 9:45pm
Dec 02, 9:45pm
Maury Young Arts Center
Trees are the oldest living beings humans have encountered since our time on Earth. They provide us with sustenance, shelter, fuel, and materials that we cannot live without. This year’s winter film from Patagonia takes us on a journey through the enshrined cypress groves of Japan, into the ancient bristlecones of Nevada and through British Columbia’s own towering red cedar forests. We follow skiers, snowboarders, scientists and healers as they each explore their relationship with the silent giants. Vancouver filmmaker Jordan Manley breathes life into these forests with his stunning cinematography. A unique look into the power of nature, treeline is as visually encapsulating as it is spiritually moving.
Up to nine short films make up this unique set of screenings. Beginning November 28th, each day will offer something special. Of note, Girl in the Galactic Sun (see below) and Cedar Tree of Life will certainly sate the sci-fi enthusiast and hedgewitch in me. Guy Maddin is one of three directors in Accidence (Day 2, Nov 30 12pm)
The following make up unit four, of student’s works, (playing Dec 3, 1:30pm). Of these pickings from this category, I find the shorts offered in this collection may well traverse beyond the line of what fantasy, a thriller or science fiction means. Rod Serling must be proud!
EGG – A surreal animation about a woman locked in her home with an egg, towards which she feels both attraction and fear. She eats the egg, she repents; she kills the egg; she lets the egg die of hunger. The woman controls the egg… or does the egg control the woman?
Fantasmagoria – Struggling to cope with the loss of her daughter, a grieving mother embarks on a surrealist journey filled with bizarre characters in search of peace in the realm of lucid dreams. As she gets closer to her daughter, Mara comes to realize what she needed all along.
Girl in the Galactic Sun – A genderless alien who longs for a different life decides to transform into a woman in order to reproduce and save the species. G944 arrives at the Galactic Sun Facility unaware of the risks, and its desperation to understand what it is to be a woman leads it down a dangerous path with unnerving consequences.