• Anthony Nadeau

Whistler Film Festival Wraps 20th Virtual Edition with Impressive Results and Key Learnings


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Whistler Film Festival Wraps 20th Virtual Edition with Impressive Results

and Key Learnings

“Canada’s Coolest Film Festival” shines a spotlight on Canadian independent film with an innovative festival model that supports filmmakers and expands worldwide reach

Whistler, B.C. (January 12, 2020): The 20th edition of the Whistler Film Festival (WFF) officially wrapped on December 31 living up to its reputation as ‘Canada’s coolest film fest’ by innovating and adapting to the unique challenges of 2020. Delivered as an online festival, WFF generated almost 50,000 streams throughout the month from its programming which included 97 film premieres, 5 talent talks, 3 events, and 36 industry sessions. To support filmmakers challenged by these unprecedented times, WFF has shared net online proceeds on a 50/50 basis directly with the filmmakers or Canadian rights holders.


WFF attracted a total of 13,952 attendees across all programming which marks a marginal increase (13%) from 2019 and included 9,730 film-screening attendees and 2,273 special event attendees (including five Talent Talks and three events). On the Industry side, the Content Summit welcomed 1,100 attendees, 150 talent program attendees including 55 participants, 24 faculty and 71 guests, and 699 delegates.

Programming and premieres were unveiled daily from December 1 to 20 and available to watch until the end of the month. Films were available to view nationally, with talent talks, events and Content Summit programming available internationally. With the capacity to view films across Canada, 52% of views were from British Columbia, with 30% views originating in Ontario and Quebec, and the balance coming from the rest of the country. Industry, talent talks, and event programming were accessible to an international audience and exceeded expectations, attracting viewers from around the globe including the US, UK, Argentina, Germany, Mexico, France, Australia and South Africa.

“We are very encouraged by the results of our first and unexpected foray in the world of online film festivals. 2020 was an unprecedented, transformative year for the screen-based industry overall and one where we fully embraced technology to redesign our festival, industry and talent programs for an online world,” said Angela Heck, WFF Managing Director. “We’ve discovered opportunities to reach new audiences and engage in meaningful ways for talent development and industry engagement, all driven by the exceptionally dedicated WFF team behind the scenes. These best practices will inform a study on the evolving role of film festivals in a streaming landscape we currently have underway. We look forward to next year’s edition when we can hopefully welcome everyone back to Whistler to take in more premieres, inspiring conversations and celebrate the magic of cinema. We also anticipate the best of the online experience will be a part of the fest and that the hybrid model is here to stay.”

Cinematic excellence remained at the heart of this year’s festival. Selected from over 1,350 submissions, festival-goers experienced 97 fresh films including 30 features and 67 shorts in ten programs from 20 countries curated in seven strands - Canadian Vanguard, Doc Bloc, Films From Away, Mountain Culture, New Voices, Special Presentations, and ShortWork. WFF proudly continued to support emerging, diverse and domestic talent with the inclusion of 18 first-time feature films (56%), 13 feature films (47%) directed by women or non-binary individuals, and 71% of the program premiering Canadian content – more than any other Canadian film festival this year. 17 of WFF’s 30 feature films were either World or Canadian premieres. Juries composed of top industry talent presented 16 awards which included $38,500 in cash and prizes as well as a $36,000 pitch prize.

The Whistler Film Festival’s Audience Award was announced on December 28 and went to THE PAPER MAN (LAFORTUNE EN PAPIER) directed by journalist Tanya Lapointe, which received its world premiere at the fest. This affectionate look at Quebec’s own version of Mr. Rogers, Claude Lafortune, brought his inspirational story and beautiful sculptures to life. The WFF Audience Award is a non-cash prize presented to the highest-rated film as voted by the audience. Additional award winners were unveiled in an online awards show, December 20. Due to popular demand, this audience favorite is now available on the watch.whistlerfilmfestival.com platform until January 31 at 11:59 pm. Tickets are $12.

WFF Director of Film Programming Paul Gratton stated: “Even with our necessary pivot to a national online offering this year, the 20th edition of the Whistler Film Festival confirmed its position as Canada’s preeminent launchpad for new and exciting productions not found at other Canadian film festivals. Two-thirds of our features had never before been screened anywhere in Canada, and nine of our features were World Premieres. For the first time ever, net proceeds from ticket sales were shared on an equal basis with the filmmakers or the Canadian rights holders, a gesture of support that was much appreciated by the creative community during these challenging times. We are already looking forward to next year’s edition when hopefully we can welcome back film buffs and filmmakers alike to our magical village in the mountains of British Columbia.”

Beyond the film-on-demand experience, WFF celebrated many of the films through engaging, interactive online conversations with over 100 filmmakers and their top talent taking part in WFF’s online edition as part of its Bonus Features following the films and Talent Talks, and shone the spotlight on 20 Alumni filmmakers in attendance with their latest films or on juries. WFF also produced three online events, including the Spark Gala & Auction on December 1 which provided a comprehensive and lively look at the festival’s 20-year history, Whistler Après on December 10, and the Awards Celebration on December 20. Designed to foster international alliances and financial partnerships for filmmakers and dealmakers, and collaborations through high-level keynotes and panel discussions, WFF’s Content Summit presented 36 interactive sessions with over 100 established industry leaders and content creators over the three week period. Overall Content Summit programming attracted 1,100 total attendees representing a wide range of industry interests including broadcasters, distributors, sales agents, literary agents, funders, producers, and directors. WFF industry programming included 504 scheduled virtual meetings (an impressive 70% increase from 2019) for delegates and talent program participants. There were also individual meetings that took place outside of WFF’s programmed blocks, facilitated through its virtual platform. With industry executives attending online from across Canada, the USA, and Europe, the Whistler Film Festival remained a place for the industry to meet, pitch, and do business.

WFF’s Content Summit directly connected to nine Talent Programs designed to bring content creators to the ‘pinnacle of success’ by providing creative and business immersion experiences for 55 Canadian artists with 55% of participants coming from BC and 64% identifying as women or non-binary, with 24 faculty and 71 industry guests (a 100% increase over 2019). Programs were adapted for online delivery with two starting in June and the balance running leading up to and during the festival, and with two running over the course of the year with expanded mentorship and access to industry in a way that takes full advantage of the platform.

WFF Talent Programs included the Producers Lab (6 producers), Screenwriters Lab (7 screenwriters), Indigenous Filmmaker Fellowship (12 filmmakers), Power Pitch (7 producers), Doc Lab (6 filmmakers), Women in Focus Mentorship (3 producers), and Stars to Watch (5 actors). WFF also collaborated with several industry organizations to host-specific initiatives at the Content Summit including the Women in the Director’s Chair Industry Immersion (8 directors) and Women in Film & Television Film Market Preparation Mentorship (1 producer). Program participants receive year-round support as well as access to the Whistler Film Festival in the year of their program, and to its Alumni community, which is over 2,805 strong.

At a time when the call for gender equity and inclusion remains more prevalent than ever before, WFF also presented initiatives focussing on gender parity that included three sessions in the Women in Focus Series at the Content Summit, the Women on Top Mentorship which supported three filmmakers, and four female-focused programs with three awards presented in partnership with Women in the Director’s Chair, Women in Film and Television Vancouver, and the Alliance of Women Female Journalists EDA Awards.

Honourees with their latest films premiering at WFF’s 20th edition included American-Canadian actor and SUGAR DADDY star Colm Feore, who received the Canadian Icon Award in recognition of his career endeavors and achievements that have made a significant impact in the film industry in Canada and beyond, and SUGAR DADDY writer and co-star Kelly McCormack, who received the One to Watch Award in recognition of a break-out performance that guarantees future success in the industry. Irish actor and filmmaker Gabriel Byrne, featured in the National Festival VOD Premiere of THE DEATH OF A LADIES MAN, received the Maverick Award in honour of his bold choices that have led to some of the most dynamic, memorable and beloved film moments of our time. Beloved Quebec actor Rémy Girard, starring in the English Canadian Premiere of YOU WILL REMEMBER ME (TU TE SOUVIENDRAS DE MOI), received the Career Achievement Award in recognition of his long and incredibly successful award-winning acting career. And Hong Kong-American actor Tzi Ma, attending the fest with the Canadian Premiere of A SHOT THROUGH THE WALL, received the Trailblazer Award for blazing a unique and inspiring stereotype-busting path for himself in film and who continues to engage audiences with meaningful, impactful work. WFF’s Stars to Watch, presented by UBCP/ACTRA, included Elyse Levesque and Ali Skovbye both featured in the National Festival VOD Premiere of THE CORRUPTION OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE directed by WFF alumnus Jeremy Torrie; Paul Grenier and Miika Whiskeyjack featured in the World Premiere of INDIAN ROAD TRIP directed by WFF alumnus A.W. Hopkins; and Melanie Rose Wilson who plays Madonna Croft in the World Premiere of ALL-IN MADONNA directed by WFF alumnus Arnold Lim.

With over 100 filmmakers confirmed to attend WFF’s online edition, filmmakers that participated in the festival or appeared in WFF’s Bonus Content recorded Q+A Sessions included: Directors Kayvon Saremi and Sean Patrick Shaul (THE DECLINE); Directors Elizabeth Haviland James and Revere La Noue (OVERLAND); Director Elizabeth Lo and Producer Ina Fichman (STRAY); Director Tanya Lapointe and Producer Marika Lapointe (THE PAPER MAN); Directors Étienne Galloy and Christophe Levac (THE MARINA); Director A.W. Hopkins and Executive Producer Andrew Currie, Actors Ajuawak Kapashesit and Dale Hunter (INDIAN ROAD TRIP); Director Ruth Lawrence and actors Marthe Bernard and Ruth Em (LITTLE ORPHANS); Co-writer Gail Maurice, and Director and Writer Joshua Demers and Xavier Yuvens, Co-Writer and Actor, Alison Louder, Actress Nicole Joy-Fraser, and DOP Elisa L. Iannacone (QUÉBEXIT); Producers KC Novak and Rachel Talalay and Director Sophie Harvey (AN INTROVERT'S GUIDE TO HIGHSCHOOL); Director Susan Rodgers, Actors Ry Barrett and Colin Price and Producer Rick Gibbs (STILL THE WATER); Director Arnold Lim and Producer Ana De Lara (ALL IN MADONNA); Director Virginia Abramovich and Producer Alex Jordan (BETWEEN WAVES); Producer Dawn Bird and Director Sam Flamont (MERCY); Director Sophie Dupuis and Producer Etienne Hansez (UNDERGROUND); Director Eric Tessier and Writer François Archambault (YOU WILL REMEMBER ME); Director Jeremy Torrie and Producer Tanya Brunel (THE CORRUPTION OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE); Director Edward Morris (HOW TO STOP A RECURRING DREAM); Producer Michel Stolnicki and Director Miguel Silveira (AMERICAN THIEF); Director Niav Conty and Producer John Jannone (SMALL TIME); Director Alfonso Quijada and Producer Andy Hodgson (THE WHISPER OF SILENCE); Director Niels Mueller, actors Bill Heck, Tanya Fischer and David Sullivan, and Producer Josh Rosenberg (SMALL TOWN WISCONSIN); Director Aimee Long and Producer Daniel Langa (A SHOT THROUGH THE WALL); Producer Lori Lizinski, Director Wendy Morgan and Producer Lauren Grant (SUGAR DADDY); Director Carl Bessai, Editor Jason Fox, Producer Rumbie Muzofa, Actors Lory Mpiana and Yalda Homayoun (IN HER CITY); Director Matt Bissonnette and Producer Corey Marr (DEATH OF A LADIES MAN); Director Wendy Hill-Tout, Actors Kristin Booth and Julia Sarah Stone and Producer Mike Peterson (MARLENE); Director Scott Abramovitch (EAT WHEATIES!); Director Michael Maxxis, Actors Hopper Penn and Mickey Avalon (American Rapper) as well as MMA fighter Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and Producer Morgan Gold (PUPPY LOVE).

A team of 20 staff, including five employees and 15 contractors, supported the festival’s success. WFF also received a significant gift of a $100,000 matching donation in 2020 and it is through this kind of support that the festival was able to have a direct impact on filmmakers by sharing proceeds with them in these challenging times.

WFF, in partnership with Nordicity and supported by the Canada Council for the Arts, has launched a research study into emerging models of (hybrid) film festivals and best practices to support content creation, collaboration and innovation for creators and the wider film ecosystem in the post-pandemic landscape. The study is expected to be completed in March 2021. The 2020 Whistler Film Festival was funded by the Government of Canada through Telefilm Canada, and by the Province of British Columbia and the Resort Municipality of Whistler through the Resort Municipality Initiative, and is sponsored by Creative BC, Cineplex, Netflix, Variety, William F. White International, Tourism Whistler, and RE/MAX Sea to Sky Real Estate. Discover more at whistlerfilmfestival.com.


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