Joaquin Phoenix, John C. Reilly western The Sisters Brothers opening gala for 2018 Calgary International Film Festival

For Stephen Schroeder it was a no-brainer.

The final credits for The Sisters Brothers were still an hour away and the executive director of the Calgary International Film Festival already had it slotted as the opening gala screening for this year’s event.

“Halfway through the movie, I turned to Brenda (Lieberman, the fest’s head programmer), and I’m like, ‘This is our opener,’ ” he says of the western, which he saw a couple of weeks ago.

“No exaggeration, I think it’s one of my favourite films of the last few years.”

Other local film lovers will get the opportunity to catch the highly anticipated adaptation of Canadian author Patrick deWitt’s award-winning novel, starring John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Riz Ahmed and Jake Gyllenhaal, when it kicks off the entire 12-day fest on Wed., Sept. 19 with a Jack Singer Concert Hall showing. (In a delightful bit of crossover festival programming fate, deWitt will be in town in mid-October for a trio of Wordfest events in support of his wonderful new book French Exit.)

That, and the after-party at Bottlescrew Bills, will set the tone for what should be a stellar year for the event, and is also a pretty good testament to how far it’s come in its 19 years and how much “word is getting out.”

As Schroeder noted earlier in a media event in front of the Globe Cinema Tuesday morning, on the industry side of things they had a record number of paid submissions this year — more than 1,900 from all around the world — and on the audience side, attendance in 2017 was over 40,000, which is “about double where it was four years ago.”

So be able to launch with director Jacques Audiard’s The Sisters Brothers — which Schroeder called “one of the biggest films we’ve ever opened the festival with” — and to start tickets for it at an incredibly fan-friendly $25, well, that can only get the city talking early and often about the impending two weeks of superb cinematic excellence.

“We haven’t always been able to get films that are going to have that much buzz for the opening gala, so I think it’s also really encouraging that the powers that be out there behind some of these bigger pictures are beginning to realize that letting us screen them for our opening gala is something that’s good for them,” Schroeder acknowledges.

“That’s not always possible. Film festivals really have to fight hard, in some cases, to get the content that we want to share with the audience.”

The rest of the content that will be at the Globe, Cineplex Eau Claire Market and, once again this year on a couple of occasions, Studio Bell, was fully unveiled on Tuesday — save for some possible additions that might come from showings at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier in Septembers.

Freshly announced onscreen highlights for Calgary Film include: Chinese film-noir pic Long Day’s Journey Into Night from director Bi Gan, which is notable for the fact that it features a 50-minute, single-take-shot in 3D; horror-thriller film I’ll Take Your Dead; a world premiere of the comedy Sorry For Your Loss, starring Bruce Greenwood and Justin Bartha; apocalypse, b-movie action flick Supergrid from Wolfcop director Lowell Dean; Syrian filmmaker Talal Derki’s war doc Of Fathers and Sons; and another doc, The Woman Who Loves Giraffes, about Canuck Anne Innis Dagg, who has been dubbed the Jane Goodall of giraffes.

Schroeder also made note of new elements to the event this year, including Generation Next, which is a partnership with the Calgary Calgary Board of Education that saw 10 high school students working under the tutelage of Lieberman and the fest’s other programmers to choose six films to screen for their classmates at the Globe, and collaborations with Beakerhead, which overlaps with Calgary Film this year.

Returning and evolving fest faves include free fest precursor and previewer The Trailer Party on Friday, Sept. 7 at the Globe, which features a showing of all the previews for the fest films that are available, the lunchtime shorts on Tuesday, Sept. 25 also at the Globe, the yet-to-be-announced Behind the Screen series with panels, keynotes, tours and “all kinds of innovative ways for the general public to connect with film, how it’s made and the fascinating people who make it.”

And as always, there will be a plethora of guests in attendance — this year, as Lieberman announced, more than 50 screenings, or about 25 per cent, will have a star, director, screenwriter, cinematographer, producer or someone else who worked on the film in the audience.

As for star-power, yes, they’re still adding names and some of those might be of the bigly variety, but unlike its T.O counterpart, Calgary Film is less about the flash and more about the festival-goer experience.

“Certainly it’s wonderful when somebody who is well known or a celebrity wants to come to the festival, (but) it’s not the main thing we do,” Schroeder says. “Our business model is not celebrity sightings. This isn’t just our philosophy, we know from talking to the audience that what people actually care about is the widest range of the most interesting films that they can watch. It’s really, for the audience — about the films, not about stars.”

And also about ensuring that they’ll be able to celebrate their platinum or emerald anniversary next year on a high.

Schroeder actually admits that planning for that has already begun in a fairly substantial way — they’re adding the position of artistic director to the staff and that person will be announced right before this year’s festival.

While that individual didn’t have a hand in No. 19, they’ll be around through the last two weeks this September “to experience our festival in person throughout this edition and then they start shortly afterwards and we’ll be starting right away to plan the 20th anniversary edition of the festival.”

Single tickets, ticket bundles and passes for the fest are on sale now from calgaryfilm.com.

The Calgary International Film Festival runs Sept. 19 to 30 at several venues in the city. For the full schedule of events, please go to calgaryfilm.com.