By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, December 4, 2012 - 0 Comments
I’ve been a devotee of the Whistler Film Festival for most of the past decade. Cannes and TIFF are both essential and vast, but these festivals unfold on such an industrial scale that they’re no longer, well, festive. For a film critic on the assembly line of world cinema, they’re more work than fun. Whistler, which wrapped its 12th edition this past weekend, has always been the festival I most look forward to. It doesn’t hurt that skiing is part of the program—unlike Sundance, the WFF encourages it, and with its Celebrity Ski Challenge, the mountain becomes part of the program. But Whistler’s five-day extravaganza also brings together filmmakers, media and industry folk with unparalleled energy and intimacy.
As a guest of the festival, I wore two hats this year, as a journalist and a member of the documentary jury. And it was evident to me and everyone I talked to that this was the year Whistler raised its game. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, December 10, 2009 at 1:21 AM - 3 Comments
I spent the weekend at Whistler and got excited about snow. Not just the stuff on the mountains. Sure, last month the B.C. ski resort was blessed with the heaviest snowfall of any month in recorded history—5.5 metres—laying down an early base for that Olympic thing in February. And yes, I admit I did a little skiing. I even entered a “celebrity challenge” slalom race and came home with a silver medal that looks convincingly like the real thing. It’s heavy. But what got me excited was the snow onscreen in a Quebec movie called Les Signes vitaux, which played in competition at the 9th annual Whistler Film Festival and won its top prize, the $15,000 Borsos Award for Best New Canadian Feature Film—presented by Hollywood Canadian Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters). Written and directed by Sopie Deraspe, this exquisite drama is set against the bitter, austere beauty of a Quebec City winter, where snow serves as a bare canvas and a rich metaphor—for the naked void between sex and death. This is not the snowman-snow of Quebec’s Winter Carnival. It’s the snow that falls in silent shades of grey and squeaks underfoot, articulating cold, while it buries the past and turns a fresh page.
Les Signes vitaux—which is titled The Living Rate in English (though I’d prefer the literal translation, Vital Signs)—is the compelling story of a young woman who becomes a volunteer in a palliative care home after the death of her mother. Sounds deadly, I know, and it’s not an easy sell. But the drama hinges on the tension between this woman’s frustrated search for life amid death and her capricious, carnal romance with a failed musician she refuses to accept as her boyfriend. That’s not all. The woman is a double amputee below the knees. And we’re not talking CGI. She’s played by Marie-Helene Bellevance, who had both legs amputated at the age of 11. Continue…