By Jonathan Lawrence
CALGARY — It’s Friday night and you’re out with your friends, trying to decide what to do. Still hungover from last weekend and having outgrown Pokemon Go, you suggest to the gang that you all catch a movie. Scoffs and sneers define the following moments.
“What is there to see?” they cry.
“Nothing but superhero flicks,” responds another.
“They just don’t make films like they used to!” shouts a frustrated man as he flings a scarf around his neck.
If these conversations seem all too familiar, fortunately, you are in luck – especially you, angry scarf guy. Coming September 21st, the Calgary International Film Festival, or CIFF, is just around the bend, and will be celebrating its 17th year in bringing the best independent films from around the world to our neck of the woods. If you’ve thrown your scarf across your neck in despair for lack of original storytelling, unique visuals, and too much CGI in popular films, make sure to check out the many innovative and diverse films being shown at the festival this year, which lasts for 12 days ending on October 2nd. And if you’re still indecisive, according to the CIFF website, 98 per cent of patrons of the festival in 2015 “had fun attending.” The other two per cent, on the other hand, likely just don’t enjoy good films.
While the lineup of films at our city’s film festival is always impressive – and this year is no different – it’s important for people to know that the final selections aren’t just an assortment of random films, or a “best-of” list from other festivals. Each film is, in fact, carefully selected by a gang of film lovers who narrow down an insurmountable list of submissions; this year, there were over 2,000 film submissions received for 2016.
One such film lover is programming manager Brenda Lieberman, who stated that a few of the goals instated at the festival are to “make sure [each genre] feels really well-balanced, [and to] make sure to have something for everybody.” She stresses the importance of accessible films, as well as more challenging ones. At the same time, she tries to find hidden gems that were overlooked by other festivals, as well as films from unknown filmmakers who simply “paid the entry fee into the festival.”
At the end of the day, Lieberman notes that a successful lineup is based on a “high number of discovery titles and films that were more of an independent production.”
One of the ways that the talented group at CIFF ensures there is something for everyone is to assign films into categories, such as Canadian Cinema, Late Show Series, World Cinema, and Documentary Series to name a few. Lieberman and her team try to provide a wide range of genres and other criteria represented within each category as well, making sure “that we have female directors…and different interest groups.” In the World Cinema Series, for example, “We tend to divide up the countries, so we make sure there’s representation from different parts of Asia to Northern Europe, Eastern Europe, Central, Latin America,” Lieberman explains. “We’re really trying to cover as many countries as possible.”
Music lovers will find a lot to enjoy about this year’s festival, with several music-oriented documentaries being featured as part of the Music on Screen Series. From tales of iconic blues guitarists to the dangers of being a female rapper in Tehran, to the resurgence of music in Libya following the fall of Gaddafi, there’s a fantastic mixture of music, culture, and history within these films. Furthermore, the National Music Centre will be screening The American Epic Sessions on September 28th with a filmmaker in attendance and a Q&A session following the show. It is a fitting venue, with its display of musical history and exhibitions, given that the film is about olden recording technology and its subsequent effects on the music industry.
CIFF isn’t just your ordinary movie-going experience; it emphasizes a sense of community. It feels like a genuine celebration of film. Calgarians are gradually coming to realize this as the festival saw a steady increase in attendances over the previous four years, with a record-breaking 35,000 attendees in 2015 – over four times the attendance when it began in 2000. The festival has gotten such attention that MovieMaker.com recently named it one of the “Top 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee.” With the explosive rate that CIFF is growing, coupled with Calgary’s vastly expanding film industry, it could perhaps one day be up there with Cannes or the Venice Film Festival. Hey, if half of Hollywood can fly to France, I am sure they can make it to Alberta.
That said, CIFF does benefit from smaller crowds than, say, the New York or Toronto Film Festivals. Perhaps you’re less likely to bump into Martin Scorsese, but it does allow for a more intimate setting between audiences and filmmakers in the festival’s post-screening Q&A sessions, networking opportunities and the Behind the Screen series, which are casual gatherings where filmmakers and fans can interact on a personal level. Aspiring filmmakers, actors and writers, take note: don’t miss this amazing opportunity. More information on the Behind the Screen series, and the festival as a whole, will be available September 7th on the CIFF website.
So angry scarf guy, you can relax, I’m sure there will be a few films out there for you. And CGI lovers, there’s something out there for you too. Let’s not be pretentious here, this is a community of film lovers. I expect to see you all there.
The 17th Calgary International Film Festival happens Sept. 21 – Oct. 2.AB, Alberta, Calgary International Film Festival, CIFF, CIFF 2016