10 YEARS OF UNDERGROUND FILMS
Though Calgary tends to not pop up on unsuspecting radars as a hotbed for underground film, legions of canny fans flock to art-house theatres in town each spring to catch another installation of the Calgary Underground Film Festival (CUFF). For those on the pulse of independent films, or willing to take a chance on something new, CUFF provides an entire week’s worth of gems across all genres, including horror, documentary, drama, comedy and cartoons. Led by festival director Brenda Lieberman, CUFF is entering its 10th years as the film festival that could and have their strongest lineup prepared to date. We sat down with Lieberman to talk about the festival’s history, the international indie film scene and the future for film in Calgary.
BeatRoute: How would you define CUFF?
Brenda Lieberman: Essentially, we look for international independent cinema that we feel pushes some boundaries, is edgy — maybe more subversive or provocative in terms of form or style or content — and we look to highlight genres, subcultures or niches that we feel audiences want to see more of in Calgary and wouldn’t have the opportunity to see, otherwise. So, you know, if a film comes through, comparing an everyday drama to something that’s got an element in it that we feel is more interesting or provocative, we certainly go [the latter] direction.
BR: Which international film festival does CUFF resemble the most?
BL: I would say Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal. It will be our seventh year attending that one and one of my absolute favourite thing about that festival, aside from their programming and their staff, is that, no matter how big that they’ve gotten – and they’ve gotten huge – they’ve never lost that small festival feel, so the staff are very collaborative and passionate. When you go and attend the festival, guests never feel left out, you meet with the filmmakers, the festival organizers. When you attend that festival, it feels like a very intimate personal experience, even though it’s just ginormous. That is something that was important to us when we started our festival 10 years ago and I don’t ever want to lose that. I think there’s so much positive energy that comes from it and the audience loves it. It allows us to feel more hospitable… it’s one of my favourite things to sort of try to make sure that we don’t lose as a group — never feeling too bureaucratic in terms of red lines of crossing.
BR: What makes a good underground film? What do you look for in the films that you screen?
BL: I like things that are impactful. I like things that will move you or shock you, something that, you know, has some level of impact, visually or story-wise. You know, a lot of the films that we program, they kind of catch you by surprise. You know what you’re going into from the synopsis and the still, maybe from what you’ve read to some degree, but they’re all going to have a powerful impact on you by the time you’ve left. They should all leave you thinking about it later or talking about it.
BR: Where does this passion for alternative films come from?
BL: I like quirky romantic comedies and I always try to find the weird, edgier jams, you know? I just like seeing story creativity, when somebody can tell a story that you’ve maybe heard a hundred times, but you haven’t the way they tell it. I think the passion comes from not only getting excited about something that you’ve seen and you can show, but from being able to discover for somebody else that doesn’t know how to find it for themselves.
BR: Bring that sub-culture to Calgary!
BL: Yeah! We do our best every year and it’s hard: some years, it’s not the right year for certain types of genre or audience for our films, but you know we try to find something for a lot of the subcultures: for instance, we have a bike documentary this year. I think we always kind of keep our eye out for one and we try to keep an eye out for snowboarding, skateboarding or something like that. Some years it works out and sometimes it doesn’t.
BR: The void you see in Calgary, what would that be? What’s missing here mostly?
BL: I’d say it would be great to get bigger audiences out to Korean cinema. We programmed a South Korean film this year. I’ve tried to program some really great Korean films at both festivals [CIFF and CUFF] over the years and there’s always an audience who likes to see more of it, but we’d like to get more of an audience out to it because some of the world’s greatest films come from there — actually, the one we’ve got this year won the big award at the Venice Film Festival. We always try and encourage the audience who’s into that to come out.
A void? Animated features, for sure. People love animated features and they’re really hard for us to program. We had a couple at the International in September, but, for Underground this year, we couldn’t find one that would work and I know that our audience would like to see more of that. Otherwise, we just think there might be more curatorial opportunities that we can involve ourselves with throughout the year to find a way to fill them in. Now that we have a larger programming team, my goal is that we could be more active this off-season when I’m busy with the International or just when our festival is in its downtime, we could do more special events from May to November, or until January. So, it’s been a positive thing that we’ve been able to grow our team and we have some ideas in the works.
BR: Anything you’d like to add?
BL: We always look for new audiences. I think the biggest fear some people have is they don’t come because they don’t have somebody to go with. People get kind of scared to go to a movie by themselves because they think it’s maybe weird, or intimidating, or they’re not motivated. No one will ever feel by themselves at our festival. There’s a lot of people who do it and I think it’s a very social atmosphere, really vibrant, and I feel it’s accessible because of that. My thought is that if you want to come and you want to take a chance on the festival and you’ve never been and you don’t have somebody to go with, to just do it once and, if you hate me for it, I’ll give you a refund. But, I think you won’t, because it’s going to win you over like the audience who does do it. We hope that everyone walks away with a really positive experience.
The Calgary Underground Film Festival will celebrate its 10-year anniversary from April 15 to 21 at the Globe Cinema. Tickets and more information can be found calgaryundergroundfilm.org.
By Claire Miglionico