CUFF celebrates 15 years with a fittingly impressive, eclectic collection of films

Out of the mundane world of multiplexes and superheroes and into an arthouse world of hammer-swinging hitmen, badass women seeking bloody revenge, children surviving brutal drug cartels by escaping into their imaginations, and insane Japanese samurai TV series that became cult classics.

Yes, as with 14 previous years, it must be time for the Calgary Underground Film Festival.

On Wednesday at the Globe Cinema, CUFF unveiled the awesome, exciting and typically eclectic lineup for their 15th annual event, which takes place this year from April 16-22 at the very same theatre.

“We’re excited about the lineup,” said festival director Brenda Lieberman after the announcement. “It’s been fun putting together this package.”

Things will kick off on April 16 with the opening gala, the Canadian premiere of Sundance fave An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn, starring Aubrey Plaza, Emile Hirsch and Craig Robinson, with director Jim Hosking in attendance and perhaps some of the onscreen talent also along for the fun.

Other highlights from the 25 feature films — both narrative and documentaries — that make up the rest of the fest include: the brutal rape-revenge film titled, simply, Revenge from director Coralie Fargeat (“This film will blow people’s minds … this film kicks ass,” says Lieberman); Knuckleball, which the CUFF guide describes as “an R-rated version of Home Alone”; the mockumentary Top Knot Detective about the legacy of a fictional Japanese samurai series from the ’90s; dark, deep, visually dazzling fairytale Tigers Are Not Afraid (Vuelven) from Mexico; Canadian music doc Slave to the Grind, which looks at grindcore, the fans who love it, and those who make it, including Calgary band Wake; Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary from Alberta-born director Brent Hodge; and the intriguing thriller You Were Never Really Here, which earned director Lynne Ramsay best screenplay and Joaquin Phoenix best actor awards a last year’s Cannes.

Ramsay will also be celebrated with a Saturday retrospective, with screenings of her previous films Ratcatcher and We Need to Talk About Kevin.

That, actually, is one of the more notable things about this year’s CUFF — that 43 per cent of the films in the lineup were shot by female filmmakers, something Lieberman says was an unintentional happy accident.

“We always look at what we’re interested in with our programming,” she says, “and make sure we’re representing properly … in what genre and countries and female/male and different cultures, and honestly these films we had already invited or planned to invite — it was super organic.”

Other returning features of the fest, those that Calgarians have come to know and love about it as it’s grown, including the the Saturday Morning All-You-Can-Eat-Cereal Cartoon Party, a free National Canadian Film Day screening on April 18 of the 1995 horror comedy Blood and Donuts, the shorts showcases with plenty of local representation, and CUFFcade, which sees five custom arcade games set up in the lobby of The Globe for play during the entire fest.

And now, finally, those who play those games can be a little younger as for the first time CUFF has lifted the 18-and-older tag for the festival.

While Lieberman admits not a great deal of the programming is really kid-friendly, she says organizers have heard from enough teenagers that they’d love to participate in it and see some of the remarkable film fare.

That is, after all, something that has been the mandate of CUFF over these 15 years — to grow it and to encourage all Calgarians to take a chance on the alternative film experience.

Lieberman, proudly, rightfully, thinks they have.

“I just feel like that fanbase is growing every year, the calibre of films, the sponsors — just the community support — everyone seems to be as passionate about the festival and its success as we are about feeding it …,” she says.

“It’s fun, it’s good for the city (and) I’m just glad that we continue to be able to put it on.”

Festival passes, tickets and the complete schedule of films at this year’s CUFF are available online from their official website here.

The Calgary Underground Film Festival runs April 16-22 at the Globe Cinema.