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Jason Priestley talks the Whistler Film Festival, wine and his favourite Canadian movie and television shows
This year, a familiar face is representing the Whistler Film Festival (December 3-7).
Vancouver born-and-bred actor Jason Priestley has been appointed the festival’s ambassador. It’s quite an honour, as Priestley is the very first ambassador for the festival, now going into its 14th year.
The festival is needed, says Priestley.
“It’s hard for Canadian filmmakers to get their movies a) made and b) seen, even for me as a Canadian filmmaker,” he said during a recent visit to Vancouver for the Whistler Film Fest kickoff party.
“Any festival like Whistler’s that showcases Canadian talent and Canadian films is incredibly important and something that needs to be supported.”
Though still best known for his role on the hit ’90s TV series Beverly Hills, 90210, Priestley has racked up numerous acting credits in other TV series, including HBO Canada’s Call Me Fitz, in which he played against type as a morally bankrupt used car salesman (his character Brandon Walsh in Beverly Hills was famously virtuous). Priestley also directed a number of episodes of Fitz, and has several other directing credits, including more episodic television and TV movies.
Last year, his feature film directorial debut won two awards at the Whistler Film Festival. Featuring Richard Dreyfuss and Tatiana Maslany, Cas & Dylan took home the Audience Award for Best Feature Film and, for Maslany (star of the sci-fi series Orphan Black), the Best Actor Award.
Naturally, Priestley attended last year’s festival. “I had a really wonderful experience. To me, Whistler is a very special place.” The actor was raised on the North Shore and grew up skiing at the resort. “I spent a lot of time in that village as a young man. So when they [the Whistler Film Festival Society] approached me I was very happy to do whatever I could.”
Though he spends most of his time in Los Angeles, Priestley’s other interests keep him active in his home province. For one, he is a partner and board member of Black Hills Estate Winery in Oliver – but he’s quick to point out that he’s no ambassador for B.C. wine.
“The amount of wine that comes out of the Okanagan, there’s not enough to satisfy B.C. and Alberta. I don’t need to be running around California saying ‘Try these wines!’ To be in America banging the drum for British Columbia wines doesn’t make any sense. Nobody can get them anyway.”
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“Twenty years ago, people were looking at the Sundance Film Festival and asking, ‘How big can it be?’” Priestley says.
“At that festival, they come up against the same thing they do in Whistler. They have a limited number of theatres as well. And the people who run it just get creative about theatre space and places to show films. They show them outdoors and do interesting things, the same things they do up in Whistler. As long as you get a creative group of people together to come up with solutions, you can do that.”
Likewise, Canadian filmmakers are becoming more inventive working around the limitations facing them.
“We work with less because there’s less than a tenth of the population up here than in the U.S., and we’re not going to have all that money to throw at things,” says Priestley.
“As time goes on, we’re figuring out we can’t compete with even the $150-million movies. We’re just figuring out what our niche is and what we can do within our budgets and time constraints, and we need to make movies within those parameters. That seems to be what everybody’s doing now. And making those kinds of movies seems to be working really well.”
Click through for Jason Priestley’s Canadiana picks
First Canadian movie you remember watching:
“Probably Strange Brew (1983), the Bob and Doug McKenzie movie. I remember feeling proud it was a Canadian movie.”
Favourite recent Canadian movies
“I loved Goon (2011); I thought that was great. And The Art of the Steal (2013) with Jay Baruchel and Kurt Russell, shot in Montreal.”
Favourite Canadian TV show
“SCTV was the one I watched most growing up. I’ve since worked with a lot of the cast members, which has been a great honour for me.”
Favourite Canadian TV shows as a kid“The Friendly Giant, and, of course, The Beachcombers, Mr. Dressup… all the classics.”
Favourite current Canadian TV shows“I love Orphan Black. I love Tatiana [Maslany]. I’ve also been watching a lot of Rookie Blue on Air Canada flights… I know all those guys on that cast.”