It’s Day 12 of Whistler Film Festival and not only are there two more solid Canadian movies joining the lineup, a highlight of WFF is also hitting the streaming service today; a two-part Mountain Culture Showcase work that I consider some of the most essential viewing of the 2020 edition.
Between Waves (Canada/Portugal, dir. Virginia Abramovich)
Although I am in love with the Canadian output at Whistler this year, I would say that BETWEEN WAVES wins the award for the most visually spectacular movie of the festival. And one of the strangest as it bends into sci-fi and mystery set in a stunning location. Jamie (Fiona Graham) believes her boyfriend Issac (Luke Robinson) is dead but keeps seeing visions of him. She decides to travel to Sao Miguel to possibly find not just Isaac but herself and connections to their past, some of which may be more revealing of what actually happened between the two.
I have really kept the description slight as it’s much better to experience all of this in filmmaker Virgina Abramovich’s unique vision; filmed both in Toronto and Portugal, this island location quickly rose up my lists of places I want to travel once I am ALLOWED to again. Jason Webber’s lucious cinematography is not just eye candy in its vista shots but HOW the world is impacting Jamie. There’s a lot that I haven’t revealed here as it’s not just a movie that is easy to spoil but also steeped in visual and feeling.
Rating: *** out of ****
Little Orphans (Canada, Director: Ruth Lawrence)
Reminding me a bit of MARION BRIDGE in showing difficult sisters trying to get along , Ruth Lawrence’s feature depicts three sisters all coming back together from different places as one of them is having a wedding. There is a LOT of difference between the three sisters and many issues come to a head, the key one being how they were abandoned by their dad at an earlier age.
It stalls at a few points during the story and there’s a BIT too much bickering at times, but LITTLE ORPHANS still worked for me overall with its lived in setting and the solid depiction of sisterhood pushing through, flaws and all. All three of the sisters actually FEEL like sisters with their up-and-down relationship woes, but the standout is Rhiannon Morgan who plays Kay; loud, proud and in charge of every situation, she is the standout in an overall solid family drama.
Rating: *** out of ****
Mountain Culture Shortwork
Before I get into this shortwork, I must take a break and say that both short packages were an absolute highlight of getting to see all of the movies in Whistler Film Festival. To see all of these positive, inspired stories of many different individuals of all backgrounds and from all over the world is simply awesome to see. I highly recommend making a full evening out of both of these short showcases.
Mountain Culture Shortwork 1:
Day 1 (United States, dir. Josh Berman)
Sometimes you just have to get back out there. That’s the persona of Trevor Kinnison, who returns five years after a near-fatal accident made him paralyzed from the waist down, and attempts a simple jump featuring enhanced safety equipment. Even though it’s just four minutes long, you easily see the passion in Trevor’s eyes and how he loves this so much that he’ll still return to the mountains to do what he loves. Filmmaker Josh Berman quickly shows him overcoming some fears (there IS one wipeout here that made me say “Ooof” out loud…thank goodness I’m watching these at home!) and then overcoming them in a nice, visually gorgeous package.
End of the Road: A Discovery of Skiing Without Ego (United States, dir. Jacob Oster)
In a little “Somewhere in Oregon” town, there is a quaint connection to some absolutely gorgeous mountains and with it, some pretty awesome skiing and snowboarding. The doc END OF THE ROAD lovingly follows a few of its locals, all with different backgrounds, as they utilize both the mountains and the small community around it as a “Best Of Both Worlds” approach. Filmmaker Jacob Oster shows the participants, both young and old age, with absolute respect and admiration and as always, there is some thrilling widescreen ski footage to go along with it.
Motherload (Canada, dir. Zoya Lynch)
Okay, now I’m really missing not being able to attend the Whistler Film Festival in person, as this lovely 14 minute tribute to mom skiers is set directly in Whistler Village and features the village, gondolas and hills that I know all too well every year I attend the festival. MOTHERLAND focuses on moms Tessa Treadaway (widow of late pro-skier Dave Treadaway) and Izzy Lynch as they strive to remain powerful to their passion for the mountains, all the while raising their kids all by themselves. We see a nice mixture of kid-raising (maybe a bit TOO much as I felt like I wanted to see more of the mountain culture) along with ski footage also involving their kids in some truly inspiring visual moments; even the very first shot sent a chill down my spine. As cliche as it may sound, MOTHERLAND is a very positive and moving experience on finding yourself in the mountains, even with a bit of excessive baggage.
Shaped By Descent (United States, dir. Mattias Evangelista)
Now THIS is what I’m talking about! Shot in stunning 4k high-definition resolution and featuring a wonderful lead character that girls could look up to, SHAPED BY DESCENT follows the journey of pro skier Lexi DuPont who journeys up to the Alaska mountains every year and finds herself in the small town of Haines close to the Canadian border. We get a glimpse into Lexi’s very strong passion even from early footage as a child right up to all of the relationships she makes now. Lexi was also the only female in town doing any of this for many years, but over time she has brought more women skiers up with her to amazing, girl-power results. She truly is an inspiring person and filmmaker Matthias Evangelista wisely balances both her story along with thunderous widescreen footage of the Alaska mountain line that even non-skiing fans will find something to appreciate here. This is also a perfect example of a doc short; at just 25 minutes it gives us an interesting subject, enough cool characters around Lexi, the Alaska setting and glorious ski footage not to overstay its welcome.
Without A Paddle (Canada, dir. Johan Rosen, Nick Khattar)
Review: Snowboarders are pretty crazy people to begin with, but in Johan Rosen and Nick Khattar’s bold documentary, they take it a step further. Four snowboarders want to retrace a path of the Columbia River near Revelstoke and hit up some key snow patches. What they soon realize is it’s one of the coldest sessions of weather in history in that area, and the majority of WITHOUT A PADDLE traces their sub-zero adventures, overnight camping, skiing in daytime AND nighttime conditions, and much more that made me reach for my blanket and turn on the heat in my cozy house as I watched it. Oddly enough, I was reminded of the recent doc THIS MOUNTAIN LIFE in the absolute determination of this group to survive the horrible weather, and WITHOUT A PADDLE gets its power here. It also has a nice nod to the First Nations land in the area as well which is integral to the story. It’s one of the longer shorts in this package but it’s essential viewing.
Mountain Culture Shortwork 2:
Blind Faith (Canada, dir. Graeme Meiklejohn)
Almost completely blind, Mac Marcoux is an skiing athlete who still wants to push himself before he goes completely blind, so with a new guide named Tristan he will attempt to take on 10/10 rated mountain challenges (with nicknames like “The Coffin”) to prove that even para-athletes can still do great challenges. Although it feels a bit corporate/advertising at times with its standardized Whistler Ski-Lift shots, I was still engrossed by Mac’s quest to become the first blink free skier. It’s still a welcome addition to the Mountain Culture showcase, where it feels like there are so many great stories all over the place.
Born From Junk (United States, dir. Mike Horn, Galin Foley)
Mountain biking all started here, right in Crested Butte, Colorado, and Mike Horn & Galin Foley’s tribute is a quick lowdown on the small town, which evolved slowly over time and had a bigger boom starting in the late 1970s when a group called the Grubstake Gang started fixing up mountain bikes and suddenly more and more people started to flock to the town for biking festivals. Less actual mountain biking clips and more talking heads than expected, the story IS interesting and I admired how the town evolved until today, however I did feel I wanted to see more modern biking scenes, which were only a few fleeting shots right before the credits started.
Made in Voyage (United States, dir. Joey Schusler, Wiley Kaupas)
Inspired like a narrative feature in the style of a Wes Anderson narration, MADE IN VOYAGE: ADVENTURE OF THE HONEY HOUSE is a pure delight from beginning to end and you would have a heart of stone to not have a smile on your face at the end. It’s about a real young ski couple, Cody Cirillo and Kellyn Wilson, who turn an old school bus into the “Honeyhouse”, a delivery device to travel to ski spots all over the Rockies in the United States. Instead of telling this story in the traditional doc sense, filmmakers Joey Schusler and Wiley Kaupas instead has a narrator (Paddy O’Connell) wax poetically in a lyrical, storytelling tone as our leads ski, play games on the bus and deal with the occasional bus breakdown or two as they try to keep things complicated. It tells a story that feels big and grand, and yet this is still a ski-culture doc, so there are still glorious ski images and many fun stunts (one of which involves a perfectly timed jump over the heroic bus driving along the street that made me burst out laughing as it was happening). All filmed with a heavy film-filter, right down to presenting the entire 25 minute short in a shrunken window box with film dirt on the edges. It’s almost like MADE IN VOYAGE was made only for me, but I’m only a casual fan of the sport. A great doc is a great doc, and this truly is a charmer one that I hope more people get to see on a really big screen.
On Falling (Canada, dir. Josephine Anderson)
If you are a bit sensitive of seeing people wipe out and crash, be a little weary when you sit down to watch ON FALLING, as Josephine Anderson’s very visual doc gets right up there with crashes and how they are dealt with, featuring several pro bikers and atheletes from across Canada. Anderson takes the visuals up a notch, however, with incredible POV biking sequences that made me want to inch back a little bit from my 65” 4k monitor as I felt like I was really flying along with our subjects. Along with that, all of her subjects are interesting and are confident enough to just keep on ticking even after their “war wounds”. Like with BLIND FAITH, this is also a Telus-produced documentary that I would love to see more of on the big screen.
12000 KM (Russia/Japan/Estonia/Sweden, dir. Erik Nylander)
A visually strong although pretty slight, half-hour short on a bunch of experienced skiers and snowboarders as they make their way via train from Sweden to Japan. Along the way we see a few important, visually spectacular spots and in one of the more interesting segments we see a “Secret House” somewhere in Transiberia complete with sauna, great food and cats you can rub on your face. I was more interested in the train trip all of this way but it’s barely mentioned; it just seems to be more of a group party going on a very long trip where we don’t actually really get a big backstory. I also simply wanted to see more of the actual train trip which I would have elevated the concept. There is still some visual beauty and good jokes in here, but it isn’t as exciting and original as MADE IN VOYAGE.
Both Mountain Culture Shortworks are now available as separate screening packages on the WFF Virtual Site, but seriously reader, take the plunge and get them both. You’ll be happy you did. This was a tremendously satisfying group of short films and I really thank Jive PR for sending links along and Whistler Film Festival for their support.
#WFF20 is here! Join in celebrating cinematic excellence with 97 fresh films, including 30 features and 67 shorts, premiering through December 20th and available to Canadian audiences online until December 31. Once you order a film, you have 24 hours to watch it. (We at Get Reel Movies recommend the TV streaming box Apple TV or even the Roku app, both of which I use to stream titles this year.) Plus, WFF has pledged to share net online proceeds on a 50/50 basis directly with the filmmakers or Canadian rights holders.
For more information, visit www.whistlerfilmfestival.com!