Paul Gratton unveils vision for Whistler Film Festival

The newly-named programming director says geography and global economic trends dictate the festival focus on Pacific Rim opportunities for growth.
Whistler Film Festival

In the midst of unpacking his suitcase and setting up his first meetings, Paul Gratton has an early vision in mind as the new director of programming at the Whistler Film Festival.

Bring on the Asians.

On only his first official day on the job, and having just got off an airplane in Vancouver, Gratton told Playback that geography and global macro-economics dictate that the west coast film festival, now in its 12th year, should carve out a niche on the doorstep of the expanding Asian market.

“There’s elements in place, such as Telefilm Canada and its China initiative with Whistler, that suggest focusing on the Pacific Rim opportunities could be the way to go, rather than focus on the European auteur tradition,” Gratton said.

Whistler has backing from Telefilm Canada and the state-run China Film Group for a script competition that offers Canadian writer/producer teams the chance to pitch potential movie co-productions to Chinese producers this year.

Conceding he first developed his film tastes in the 1970s waiting for the next European auteur film to arrive at the local cinema, Gratton said it was time for Whistler to distinguish itself from the likes of Toronto and Cannes by building on its links to China, Korea, Bollywood, Australia and New Zealand and, not least, Hollywood to the south for which it can become a gateway.

“There’s a niche for a more industrial-oriented, relationship-building festival that has links to the Pacific Rim,” he added.

A shift to the east would also be timely.

“Europe is in economic disarray. They have an incredible subsidy system, but one wonders how long they will maintain that support,” Gratton observed.

Meanwhile China is importing more foreign movies into its own market, and is increasingly collaborating with western film producers.

“You look at the size of the (Chinese) market, you look at India, at their successful Bollywood industry, you look at the number of movies that open at the AMC in Toronto — I’m seeing a Korean and a Bollywood movie every week — and you look at the demographic makeup of Canadians, and I’m just feeling that there’s tremendous growth opportunity for the festival,” Gratton added.

He might be fresh in the job, but Gratton already knows a host of Canadian filmmakers, including at Eye Steel Film in Montreal, the makers of Up the Yangtze and Last Train Home, that have already penetrated the Chinese market by making films locally.

“I want them to come to Whistler,” he said of such Asian-minded Canadian filmmakers who are looking to partner up with foreign producers to continue chronicling a fast-changing Asian continent.

Summing up his general plans and his vision for Whistler, Gratton added: “It would probably be to see what role we can play as a festival in supporting what I see as an inevitable global trend, and a specific Canadian role to play within in it.”