The Whistler Film Festival kicked off this week on December 4 as filmmakers, industry professionals, and cinephiles made their way to British Columbia's Fitzsimmons Range and Whistler-Blackcomb Resort. Launched in 2001, the Canadian Sundance has mushroomed into a major event that attracts more than 10,000 locals and tourists eager to see almost a hundred films from around the world. And, instead of forcing attendees to choose between going to films and skiing, WFF's planners tend to assume everyone will do both.
"We've had people connect on chairlifts and hot tubs at parties and done deals, and major projects have come out of it," says festival founder Shauna Hardy Mishaw. "I think there's a real magic to it."
Whistler is not alone in catering to snow and film lovers who need something to do after-hours, and the mountain festival is an easy sell – days on the hill, nights at the movies, and afternoons with celebrities at the bar. Ever since the Telluride Film Festival welcomed Gloria Swanson in the summer of 1974, the formula has been set. Robert Redford bumped it up a notch before Aspen, Big Sky, and Tahoe all started their own smaller celebrations. The fit wasn't just about economics – though filmmakers and skiers both tend to be affluent – it was also about recapturing the frontier mentality that once defined Hollywood and the movie industry in general. It is easy for modern film lovers to forget how defiantly western the industry once was, but mountain festivals serve as a reminder.
Whistler's festival, on the slopes above the frigid Strait of Georgia, is the most western of all. This year's celebration includes Canadian (former) heartthrob Jason Priestley's directorial debut, 'Cas & Dylan' starring Richard Dreyfuss, Jean-Marc Vallée's 'Dallas Buyers Club,' Atom Egoyan's 'Devil's Knot,' and Louise Archambault's 'Gabrielle' – Canada's Oscar entry to the foreign-language category. The festival will close with Lucy Walker's documentary 'The Crash Reel,' about the post-fall recovery of up-and-coming snowboarder Kevin Pearce, part of the festival's unique Mountain Culture category designed to spotlight filmmaking on the hill.
More information: Tickets and latest info on screenings and events are available on the festival's website. The celebration runs from December 4 through December 8, 2013.