Sled Island meets the silver screen with some engaging, alternative film selections

Have you reached peak superhero? Are you suffering from Star Wars fatigue? Well, Sled Island may have the cure to what ails ya.

You may be familiar with Sled Island as the city’s largest multi-venue music and arts festival, but few realize it’s also a festival within a festival, with a curated film program running throughout the week, launching Tuesday, June 19 with Videokills – The Explorer Series.

The film festival has been running since Sled Island’s inception in 2007, but curator Adele Brunnhofer says it started out small.

“It was pretty grassroots stuff.”

Over the years the calibre and creativity of films screened has broadened to move the focus from an exclusively music-based series, to a spectrum of films that encompass arts, subcultures and social issues.

“We get to program some films that otherwise are not going screen in Calgary,” says. Brunnhofer. “We look for films that are related to music or the spirit of the festival.”

Here’s what you can expect from this year’s offerings.

Videokills – The Explorer Series: Invisible City Symphonies

Tuesday, June 19, HiFi Club at 7 p.m.

Now in its second year, and the “jewel in the crown” of the Sled Island film festival, Videokills is the brainchild of JJ Weihl. In 2009, Weihl began screening contemporary video art in cities such as New York, Barcelona, Leipzig and London, personally selecting musicians to create an original accompaniment to each short film.

This year, Weihl has chosen five contemporary silent films ranging from two to 18 minutes in length and has assigned a local band or musician to score the film.

This year’s selections hail from the U.K., France, Iraq/Palestine, Finland and the U.S. and will be accompanied by original music by Sunglaciers, Samantha Savage Smith and Chris Dadge, Slut Prophet, World Brain and Hermitess.

“The point is to make musicians collaborate with filmmakers they might otherwise never have met,” says Weihl.

She says she tries to pick films that are diverse visually or in content – be it narrative, animated, or eclectic.

“One of the films we have is a classic animated (one) from the ’70s. Some have already had scores, so your relationship to the visual changes in relation to the score,” says Weihl.

“There’s a sensory overload in what’s available in silent film; it’s a rare, dead, dying art.”

Boom For Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat

Wednesday, June 20, Globe Cinema at 7 p.m.

This documentary looks at the formative years of the New York street artist whose rise to fame was cut short by his death in 1988 at the age of 27.

Brunnhofer says the film ties into the visual arts component of Sled Island, but also links together the interchangeable relationship the various schools arts have with one another.

Boom For Real expresses the inner life of a young Basquiat, as well as the outer influences that New York had on the artist and the world at that time — the city being a hotbed of creative and artistic innovation born out of crime, social strata, and politics.

Music was changing with the emergence of punk rock and hip-hop, and art was changing with the prevalence of street art and graffiti that gave the disenfranchised their own freedom of expression.

With rare, archival footage, works and words, as well as first-hand accounts from those who also turned to New York City as a muse, this is an intimate portrait of the Icarus of modern art.

Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution

Wednesday, June 20, Globe Cinema at 9:15 p.m.

Even if you’ve never heard of queercore, you’ve likely heard queercore and didn’t even know it.

Queercore was a reactionary movement that began in the 1980s in response to the uber-masculine and homophobic trajectory punk rock was taking. As a means to “punk” the punks, LGBTQ+ activists fought back by creating their own zines which were in turn promoted by mainstream punk zines like Maximum RocknRoll.

Punk bands were formed in the U.S. and Canada in solidarity with the movement, and regardless of whether they had LGBTQ+ members or not, promoted a message of anti-homophobia and solidarity.

Many of these bands and zines went on to become hugely influential on the Riot Grrrl movement of the early ’90s.

The film takes a look at the queercore and homocore movements, as well as its founders, and gathers commentary from musicians and artists who lived it or were influenced by it – including Bruce LaBruce, P-Orridge, Kathleen Hanna, Kim Gordon, John Waters, and former Sled Island guest curator, Peaches.

imagineNATIVE Film & Video Tour

Thursday, June 21, Arts Commons at 5 p.m.

To celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day, Sled Island is teaming up with Toronto’s  imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival, as well as the Treaty 7 Film Collective to screen selections from films made by Indigenous artists, producers, writers and directors.

“(imagineNATIVE) do a tour around Canada in remote communities,” says Brunnhofer. “This is the first time they’re collaborating with another arts festival.”

Local filmmaker Trevor Soloway will be premiering two short films — a narrative short called Indian Giver, and the first in a four-part documentary, featuring country musician Arman Duck Chief.

Brunnhofer says the imagineNATIVE showcase is a way to feature up-and-coming artists and emerging talent from Canada’s Indigenous filmmakers.

Nico, 1988

Thursday, June 21, Globe Cinema at 9:15 p.m.

Nico, 1988 is Sled Island’s only feature film this year, offering a very dark and often painful look at the last years of Nico, the raspy-voiced chanteuse known for her collaborations with The Velvet Underground.

Voted best film of the Venice Film Festival, this biopic starring Trine Dyrholm is a harrowing look at a woman who had very little control over her own destiny, and who lived in the shadow of the muse she once was, but never aspired to be.

“It’s about her last tour through Europe,” says Brunnhofer. “It’s a heavy film, engaging and visceral.”

Sled Island’s film festival runs from Tuesday, June 19 until Thursday, June 21 at various locations. Tickets are available at with the exception of imagineNATIVE, which is free to the public.

Described by some as a “cute dictionary” and a “punk rock Tina Fey,” Autumn Fox is a freelance writer and editor living in Calgary. She loves puns, irony and Vi-Co. Find her on Twitter @AudieCantFail.