At first glance, Whistler doesn’t seem like the ideal place for an aspiring filmmaker to cut his teeth. It’s a small, sports-obsessed town without the resources of nearby Vancouver or the industry hub of Toronto, but look a little closer and you’ll find a thriving arts community that provides ample opportunity for an emerging filmmaker to thrive.
It’s out of this community that filmmaker Peter Harvey was born and raised and longtime locals should be familiar with his work. His short films have appeared at the World Ski and Snowboard Festival since he was a teenager and more recently at the Whistler Film Festival (WFF).
This year, Harvey returns to the WFF, with the premiere of Picture Day, the debut feature from Canadian writer-director Kate Melville, which he produced.
The road back home has been a long and productive one for the 28-year-old Harvey, who graduated from Whistler Secondary School in 2002 and soon after had to make the tough choice between his two childhood passions: filmmaking and hockey.
Harvey was a successful junior hockey player, having played two years in the B.C. Interior when he was offered the chance to play for an American university. The offer came around the time he was accepted into Capilano University’s film program.
“I realized I didn’t have a huge future with hockey and that film was where I wanted to go and was my passion, so I decided to jump on that,” he said.
Having shot homemade films with his friends since his pre-teen days, Harvey’s first major recognition came when he was still in university, placing third in the 72 Hour Filmmaker Showdown as part of the 2005 World Ski and Snowboard Festival.
“As I was growing up, entering the 72 Hour Filmmaker Showdown, I watched guys like Feet Banks and Chili Thom and those kind of guys make these films and it made me push the next year to make a better film,” he said.
After graduating in 2007, another of Harvey’s works, Versus, helped to put him on the radar when it was selected as one of 10 shorts that would be featured at the Toronto International Film Festival’s Student Film Showcase.
Harvey credits this time with helping him realize he needed to make the move to Toronto, where he met many of his current friends and mentors in the industry, in order to further his career. Just four months after his short debuted at Canada’s premiere film festival, Harvey packed his bags and headed for greener pastures in Ontario.
“When I tell people I’m from Whistler, being out here in Ontario, everyone’s first reaction is ‘Why did you move?’ and I have to explain: for my industry and for what I do, I need to be here in Toronto,” he said.
The move has paid dividends for Harvey, who has since served as production manager on a wide array of projects, eventually leading him to Melville and her refreshingly vibrant high school drama, Picture Day, which was chosen as one of eight WFF pictures vying for top honours in the Borsos Competition for Best Canadian Feature this year.
While having his work appear at the fest is nothing new for Harvey — his aggressively local Growing Up Whistler short played at the WFF Closing Gala in 2009 — he’s honoured that Picture Day was not only added to the fest’s lineup, but is also up for its most coveted prize.
“When, A: I heard it got accepted to the festival and, B: I heard it was in the Borsos Competition, I think I yelled and screamed for joy. It’s my hometown festival and to be in the Borsos Competition is one of the greatest honours, so I was pretty stoked on it,” he said.
While he admitted his dream job would be to “get paid to film snowboarding out of a helicopter every day of the year,” Harvey has worked extensively as a director and a producer — and likes it that way.
“I consider myself a filmmaker. I don’t really like to say that I’m one thing or the other,” he said. “If I read the script and I fall in love with it and decide this is something that I need to tell and need to be a part of, I’m going to attach myself to the project in whatever role I can, whether its directing or producing. I’m going to find a role that best suits me for that project.”
Besides producing Picture Day, a film Harvey called a “kind of rock and roll high school love triangle with a really good vibe,” he is working on several projects that should make him more familiar to Canadians across the country including a series about junior hockey with Canadian producer Ben Murray, a film with Degrassi High alum Natty Zavitz called Talk Like a White Boy and writer-director (and former Green Power Ranger) Matt Sadowski-Austin’s The Next Morning.
Whistler’s cinematic wunderkind grew up watching ski film pioneer Warren Miller’s downhill movies, and stole some of his words of wisdom for other local filmmakers looking to follow in Harvey’s footsteps:
“When I talked to (Miller) about 10 years ago, his advice was to follow my dream and to get out there and shoot. He told me to shoot something every day; to write it, film it and edit it everyday,” said Harvey. “This is somebody who’s been making ski films since 1949 so I thought I should listen to this guy, he’s obviously doing something right.”
Picture Day will play in the Borsos competition at the Whistler Film Festival, which runs Nov. 28 to Dec. 2. Visit www.whistlerfilmfestival.com for more information.