Variety’s Screenwriters to Watch Headlines 16th Annual Whistler Film Festival

Katherine Brodsky
Variety

The 16th annual Whistler Film Festival runs Nov. 30 to Dec. 4, and opens with Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land,” a cinematic ode to the magic of movie musicals starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.

But as much as the fest likes to celebrate film, over the years, it has grown into a talent incubator. This year’s edition of WFF is supporting upward of 75 Canadian artists through 12 different talent programs.

When the WFF launched, it didn’t have any talent programs at all. The first one, in 2007, Go West Project Lab, was a partnership with the Canadian Film Centre. Over time, the fest’s number of programs ballooned. Organizers launched an Aboriginal Filmmaker Showcase, Stars to Watch, a music showcase, Doc Lab, DigiFirst Lab, Canon’s hi5 Short Film Challenge, the MPIAA Short Film Award, and many others.

These programs are designed to bring content creators to “the brink of success” says the fest’s exec director Shauna Hardy Mishaw.

“It allows them to really incubate their projects in a very unique setting, and put [the filmmakers] through a process, which really enables us to work on their projects, connect them with the right people and put them through a mentorship program,” she says. “We wanted to work with the filmmakers and creators in a way that elevated their projects and their craft and we felt that these programs were a key differentiator for us [as a festival].”

And it seems to be working. As the fest grows, so does the success rate of its alumni. Some of the recent projects that have been through one of WFF’s talent programs include the Daniel Domachowski-produced “Hello Destroyer,” which premiered at this year’s TIFF; Andrew Currie and Mary Anne Waterhouse’s “The Steps” starring Emmanuelle Chriqui, James Brolin, and Jason Ritter; as well as Aboriginal Filmmaker Fellowship 2015 recipient and this year’s Kevin Spacey Foundation’s Artist of Choice Canadian film winner Mary Galloway who will make her directorial debut with “Unintentional Mother.”

Then there’s 2013 Feature Project Lab producers Josh Epstein and Kyle Rideout’s “Public Schooled,” which is about to start shooting.

“I think that having someone giving you resources at such an early stage to get you thinking about things outside of the script, to get you talking to sales agents and other producers, was a big advantage to us,” says Epstein. “[The Feature Project Lab] is for anybody who’s not afraid of asking a dumb question [and] because Whistler is such a small town, you bump into everybody each time you turn around. It’s a great place to meet people you’d possibly work with in the future.”

First-time producers at Whistler are also able to learn what sales agents and distributors might have to say about the project, says Domachowski, whose film was also part of the 2013 Feature Project Lab.

“One thing that was great about pitching your film is that you get the opportunity to just pitch it to an audience — it’s a really great experience, especially if you’ve never done that,” he says. “It’s great to have people poke holes through your project because it makes you take a step back and see if there are any other approaches you can take. While it’s always good for people to be realistic, the film industry is where magic happens.”

Even for those without a project in a talent lab, WFF presents an incredible opportunity to learn in an intimate setting from some of the top figures in the industry.

Variety Top 10 Screenwriters to Watch returns to WFF this year, with Variety’s Vice President and Executive Editor Steven Gaydos honoring scribes Luke Davies (“Lion”); Noah Oppenheim (“Jackie”); Allison Schroeder (“Hidden Figures”); Celine Sciamma (“My Life as a Zucchini”), Pamela Ribon (“Moana”); Olivia Milch (“Ocean’s Eight”); Kristina Lauren Anderson (“Catherine the Great”); Jojo Moyes (“You Before Me”); Todd Komarnicki (“Sully”); and Jonás Cuarón (“Desierto”).

According to Hardy Mishaw, as WFF moves forward, it has plans to establish itself as a leader in training for above-the-line creators in the industry, not only for Canadian talent, but international as well.

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