A tennis biopic, a Canadian sex romp and a doc on movie scores are among the first wave of films announced for this year’s Calgary International Film Festival.
Ten films were unveiled by organizers on Tuesday for the event, which takes place Sept. 20 to Oct. 1 in the city.
Executive director Steve Schroeder thinks it’s an impressive and eclectic lot that they’ve rolled out first.
“It’s tough to always know what to announce first,” he says, explaining that the programming is still ongoing with programmers sifting through the approaching 3,000 submissions — a record for the event in its 18-year history.
“When it comes to what the most anticipated films are, there are lots of ways to measure most anticipated. For example, is it a film that won a big award at an international festival? That’s one way of being most anticipated. But sometimes the way of being most anticipated is just our programming team loves the film and we want to communicate that to people by saying, ‘You might not have heard of this film or this director, but this is one that you should see.”
There are plenty from both categories among the first 10 announced including: Small Town Crime, a thriller featuring a “powerhouse cast” of John Hawkes, Octavia Spencer and Robert Forster; Score: A Film Music Documentary, which has won several audience awards at other fests; the moving film Nobody’s Watching, which is a Canadian premiere for the Calgary event; the drama The Light of the Moon from director Jessica Thompson, which tackles the aftermath of sexual assault and earned the audience award at SXSW; and World Cinema Series entry A Fantastic Woman, which won the Golden Berlin Bear for Best Picture and Silver Berlin Bear for Best Screenplay at the Berlin International Film Festival.
And in a coup for the festival, they’ll also screen director Janus Metz’s Borg/McEnroe, which stars Shia LaBeouf and Sverrir Gudnason, and which was just announced as the opening film of the Toronto International Film Festival.
“It’s a little hard to say these things at this stage of the game with certainty, but it’s entirely possible that Calgary’s audience might be the second in the world to see it … because we start right after TIFF ends,” he says, explaining Halifax might sneak in there and screen it just before them.
“We don’t like to just ride on TIFF’s coattails, but I do know that a lot of people often really hope that they’re going to get to see some of the buzzier films out of TIFF at our festival, too.”
Calgary Film haven’t yet selected their opening gala film, as Schroeder says it’s “almost always one of the last pieces to fall into place,” but it will be part of the Canada 150 Celebrations and presented in conjunction with Telefilm.
One other element of the opening gala that is known is that there will be the screening of the winner of the ATB-sponsored contest, which is asking for audience-submitted, 15-second film parody.
“We’re not Cannes, we’re not Sundance, people aren’t buying and selling the rights to world premieres at our festival. We’re an audience festival, which means that it’s about as many ways of engaging the general public in the films as possible,” he says.
“So if our presenting sponsor wants to run, instead of a a more typical ad campaign, if they want to actually engage Calgarians in a fan video competition and contest, that’s perfect for us and we thought it would be really cool to show the winner at the opening gala.”
Schroeder says the focus on being a more audience-friendly festival was a conscious one they made almost six years ago when he came onboard.
The Calgary International Film Festival — now no longer referred to as CIFF, but as Calgary Film — was “reforging its identity at that time, it had been through some rough times,” he says.
“There was a lot of discussion about should industry relevance be our top goal, certainly a lot of people felt that maybe bringing in stars and celebrities a la Comic Expo, that kind of approach, that that’s what people really wanted out of the film festival,” he says.
“And I always felt at a gut level — and I wasn’t the only one, there were a lot of people that thought the same — that actually really what draws people most passionately to a film festival is the range and diversity and quality of the films themselves. And ultimately something that ties a huge number of humans together is that people love a good story on screen …
“It’s not about premiere status, it’s not about celebrities, it’s not about the industry — certainly all of those things are relevant to us, but it’s actually just about how can we engage the general public with the festival.”
With sex, apparently.
One of the other films announced in the first wave is director Jonathan Cohen’s kinky comedy A Swingers Weekend, which stars local actress Erin Karpluk.
It is one of a long line of sexcapades that began with one of the most famous Canadian films of all time, Porky’s.
Schroeder laughs “I don’t know what it is with Canadian directors and sex comedies, but … the last two or three years I feel like every year one of the strongest films at the festival and certainly one of the ones highest on the audience ratings are the Canadian sex comedies,” he says, referencing How to Plan An Orgy In A Small Town.
“Is there a theme here? I don’t know.”
We’ll see how many more are announced in the coming weeks, with a steady flow of films and shorts being unveiled, including a special screening of the Balthazar Getty and Henry Rollins horror film Feast Aug. 20 at the Ship and Anchor, when the Late Shows Series will be revealed.
“That’s another example of going and being accessible and hopefully having fun and putting on something that people will just go and have a pint or five and enjoy an entertaining film,” Schroeder says and continues,“There are lots more goodies in store. I’m particularly excited about next week’s announcement as well because we’re announcing our Alberta content.
“I will just foreshadow that by saying that we have some of the best Alberta content I’ve ever seen. I don’t want to take next week’s wad and blow it now, but one of the best Alberta features films that I’ve ever seen is in the mix.”
The Calgary International Film Festival runs Sept. 20 to Oct. 1 in the city. For tickets and more information go to calgaryfilm.com.