WHISTLER FILM FESTIVAL from December 1-31 at whistlerfilmfestival.com.
For decades, the Whistler Film Festival has been one of those Canadian film events that was just slightly out of reach to Toronto audiences. It’s on the other side of the country, obviously, with splashy promotion that tends toward the glamourous, so there’s always a little FOMO at play.
Whistler has also built a reputation for premiering all the homegrown features that ought to have screened at TIFF earlier in the fall, but didn’t.
This year is no different – except for the whole pandemic thing, which has moved the festival online. But that just means all of Canada has access to the program, which for the 20th edition offers a really strong lineup of Canadian cinema. That’s in contrast to this year’s TIFF, where the domestic offerings were just a sliver of an already reduced lineup.
So here are a few titles to watch as they become available. The festival is rolling out titles on a daily schedule, though all films will remain accessible for viewing through December 31. And Whistler is splitting net ticket proceeds 50-50 with the filmmakers, so you can feel good about gorging on stuff.
NOW named Kelly McCormack one of Canada’s rising screen stars in 2019. Watch Sugar Daddy, and you’ll see why: Wendy Morgan’s slightly stylized, emotionally charged drama stars the Letterkenny and Killjoys scene-stealer as a struggling musician who joins an agency that provides “paid dinner companions” to older men who don’t want emotional attachments, or anything further. McCormack wrote and produced the film, and does her own singing, but Sugar Daddy’s not just a showcase for her eccentric, electric screen presence. Colm Feore gives one of the best performances of his career as one of her clients, and the supporting cast features a host of Toronto faces, from Jess Salgueiro, Amanda Brugel, Ishan Davé and Kaniehtiio Horn to McCormack’s Killjoys pals Aaron Ashmore and Rob Stewart.
Now available to stream; a talent talk with McCormack and Feore will be available Wednesday, December 2, at 7 pm ET.
If you missed it at Cinefranco last month, Joshua Demers’s politically charged satire – starring Nicole Joy-Fraser and Trickster’s Gail Maurice as Indigenous sisters caught up in a border conflict between New Brunswick and a newly independent Quebec – is definitely worth catching up to. The festival is making it available in two differently subtitled versions – one with English subs for the French/Cree dialogue, and another with French subs for the English/Cree dialogue – so some fiddling with the player may be necessary. But you’ll figure it out.
Available to stream Sunday, December 6.
There are odder movies at Whistler this year, but none that takes a swing as wild as writer/director Matthew Bissonnette’s surrealistic drama, which stars Gabriel Byrne as a McGill poetry professor who starts experiencing vivid, thematically relevant hallucinations due to a malignant brain tumour. (As the title implies, a certain Leonard Cohen album factors heavily in the storytelling.) It’s an ambitious, risky gamble, but Bissonnette – whose credits include the gentle, perceptive sibling drama Passenger Side – makes it work, anchoring his movie’s strangest moments in Byrne’s exhausted humanity.
Available to stream December 9.
Scott Abramovitch, who wrote the curious Susan Sarandon thriller The Calling a few years ago, makes his directorial debut with this equally curious picture about a socially awkward man (Tony Hale) whose OCD leads him to pester the actor and filmmaker Elizabeth Banks on Facebook because they went to college together – resulting in a restraining order that derails his entire life. It’s … sort of a comedy? But it’s also a strangely watchable movie that’s as odd as its hero, with a supporting cast filled with gifted comic players like Sarah Burns, Sarah Chalke, Elisha Cuthbert, Sarah Goldberg, Paul Walter Hauser, Lamorne Morris, Alan Tudyk and David Walton. If any movie at this festival has a chance at cult status, it’s this one.
Available to stream December 17.
There’s a movie-of-the-week quality to Wendy Hill-Tout’s docudrama about Marlene Truscott, who spent decades fighting for the exoneration of her husband Steven in the 1959 rape and murder of Lynne Harper. (He was paroled in 1969, but not cleared until 2007.) I don’t mean that as an insult; the construction of the film makes it better suited to viewing on a home screen, where you can better appreciate the performances of Kristin Booth and Greg Bryk as the older Marlene and Steven – and the delicacy of Julia Sarah Stone and Dempsey Bryk as the couple’s younger selves; and the emotional arc of Hill-Tout and Cathy Ostlere’s screenplay, which illustrates just how hard it was for the Truscotts to build a life together while shadowed by the public presumption of Steven’s guilt.
Available to stream December 18.