Whistler is gorgeous. What a great place to hold a film festival. Even for a non-skier, the village is full of activities and temptations for any palette. And the people are SO friendly. Within minutes of our arrival, a complete stranger was fishing through her coin purse to give us a quarter to loose a shopping cart at the market, and if you take so much as a single hesitant step anywhere in the village, someone will stop to assist you, sometimes a designated helper, other times just a dedicated resident, whether you’ve asked for it, or want it, or not.
I wish I was equally impressed with the film festival itself, but I’m not. It made an immediate nasty impression on me when I arrived at the gala only to be put on the naughty list for holding contraband (ie, my camera). Here’s the thing. Don’t tell people from around the world to come to your film festival in a picturesque little village, and then tell them not to take pictures. Second, don’t call this a film festival or else I might have the idea that actors and directors are debuting their films and will be walking red carpets expecting to be photographed. There were precious few celebrities in Whistler, not even the ones who were billed, but I didn’t know that yet. I was still thinking you were a real festival, Whistler, and so I expected you to treat me like a real attendee. Instead you treated me like a criminal – only of thought crime, I suppose, since I hadn’t yet seen a single movie and could not have pirated your precious material – BUT I OWNED A CAMERA so of course I deserved to be lectured like a felon wearing finery. No matter that you’d already let in a hundred people with phones equipped with the exact same video-taking ability. No, no, by all means single me out and shame me. I’m sure I deserve it.
But on the topic of that first night, the “opening gala” as it called itself, which apparently was just an excuse to charge $35 dollars to watch a movie when all the others cost only $13. What does a gala make? Was it the cash bar, or the obligatory speech from the mayor? Next year can I pay extra not to hear that speech? As you know, Jason Priestly and Kim Cattrall were announced as the in-house celebrities, and yet we saw not a single hair from either of their heads the entire week we were there. And if you’re not trotting them out for the opening gala, then for what?
Difficulties and disappointments permeated this festival no matter which way we turned. The St. Lawrence festival that we attended last month wasn’t perfect either, but this being its inaugural year, we were more understanding. Whistler is boasting that this year is its 15th, and by now, they really should know better.
If a screening was scheduled to start at 8:30pm, they didn’t start letting people in until 8:30pm, which means not a single movie ever started on time. The theatres were sitting there with empty seats, but for some reason, the paying public was not allowed to sit in them. Even once you were in the theatre you’d be lucky to score a seat, as half of them were always reserved. Nobody ever showed up to sit in those reserved seats, so they’d yank the reserved signs last minute, which means the very last stragglers to arrive got the very best seats in the house, while people who had lined up politely got stiffed, EVERY DAMN TIME.
Sean and I were supposed to see 11 movies at this festival but only saw 10. We were in line waiting to be let in to see The Wave when we were told that no one could figure out how to download the movie from the usb, and so it was indefinitely delayed – “90 minutes at least.” We were told we could either come back 90 minutes later, or we could trade in our passes for passes to another movie. But here’s the rub: we’re at a festival. Our schedule is set. Waiting 90 minutes leaks into our next film. And we don’t have any other holes in our schedule to allow for a substitute film. Other people had just driven up from Vancouver and couldn’t stick around for these options, but reimbursement was flatly refused. The 90 minute wait was of course commuted to an outright cancellation, and no makeup screening was ever scheduled, which means we were shit out of luck. We travelled 4500km to see these movies, and it’s kind of heartbreaking to leave unsatisfied.
Honestly, we were unsatisfied before we got there. The programming was not solid. We knew going in that although there were quite a few “big” movies on the bill, we’d only get to see one of them because they were all scheduled to play at 9pm on the Saturday night. Apologies to Sarah Silverman and James Franco, but I went with Emma Thompson. And at least that screening went off without a hitch. Others were not so lucky.
Two of our screenings – two out of ten, mind you – were interrupted because microphones in other screenings were being broadcast in our theatre. I felt bad for the director of Chasing Banksy, because some woman was mindlessly singing nonsense into a mic and that was broadcast right in the middle of his movie, drowning out its actual sound. It was particularly ironic since they were unable to provide him a microphone when he was introducing the movie – a world premiere, no less – and he had to resort to using his “outdoor voice.” And the same thing happened again at the Ethan Hawke movie where several audience members apparently recognized the voice and were shouting “Hey Paul, your mic’s on!” so that instead of one distraction there were dozens. Awesome.
Anyway. I think the Whistler film festival is fine if you live in Whistler and don’t mind being bandied about, and enjoy watching movies in the freezing cold. And no, I don’t mean it was cold in Whistler, because actually it was quite mild. I mean the theatres were unheated. Thank goodness for blanket scarves, which served more as blanket than as scarf – although I did see other people toting actual blankets around, and others just huddled under puffy coats. Luckily Whistler the resort town rocks. It’s fun and full of energy and we had a great trip even if a certain festival let us down.