Pop stars, swamp rats, political cartoonists, skateboarders, trained wolves, medical marijuana and eccentric auteurs.
Nothing the same.
But all make sense in the context of the Calgary Underground Film Festival’s sixth annual CUFF.Docs event.
“I love when you see it all come together,” says festival director and co-founder Brenda Lieberman doing her best Hannibal Smith impression.
Weird, wonderful, magical, musical, profound, silly, thoughtful, stupid — all of it has a place in the five-day, 13-titles collection of the best documentary films from around the world, which takes place Nov. 28-Dec. 2 at the Globe Cinema
Some of the highlights of this year’s lineup, which was announced late last week, include: This Changes Everything, filmmaker Tom Donahue’s spotlight on the sexism that Hollywood breeds and features the thoughts and experiences of such high-profile actors as Meryl Streep, Jessica Chasten and Geena Davis; the nightmare-inducing Rodents of Unusual Size, which highlights the battle many Louisiana fisherfolk are having with giant, 20-pound swamp rats who have infested their wetlands; German director Hans Block’s work The Cleaners about those whose task it is to scrub the internet of material deemed too offensive; and film fest darling Minding the Gap, a coming-of-age film that focusses on a trio of skateboarding pals and the various personal relationships they have to navigate.
“They’re all really impactful in different ways,” Lieberman says.
“And they all came to us in different ways, too — some we’ve had our eye on all year round. Like Minding the Gap, we invited it in April (to CUFF), the timing didn’t work out, so we were crossing our fingers that it would work out for this festival. It’s won over 32 festival awards, people are talking about it all year long … But Rodents of Unusual Size came across our plate interestingly because there are three directors who did it together and one of them (Chris Metzler) we brought to CUFF several years ago with the film Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone … and that director contacted us.”
Other than the #TimesUp and #MeToo timely This Changes Everything, there is also some star power by way of: Canadian director Ron Mann’s Carmine Street Guitars, which looks at the famed, NYC custom-made guitar company and those musicians who have embraced their work, including Lou Reed and Bob Dylan; The Insufferable Groo about cult fave filmmaker Stephen Groo, whose resume includes almost 200 films in the past two decade, and his attempts to get Jack Black to star in his latest, an “elf/human love story”; and the doc Matangi/Maya/ M.I.A. about the singer’s journey from Sri Lankan immigrant to unlikely chart-topper.
Lieberman, who admits to coming into the subject unaware, calls the film “fantastic” and thinks fans and the uninitiated alike will be drawn to it.
“I do think it’s going to be a popular one, and I feel like if people glancing over the lineup and a couple of things stand out to them by way of simple, ‘I recognize this artist,’ and it attracts them to the festival, I think that’s great,” she says
“There’s something with the way we try to pick the films where we’re hoping the majority of the films, if not all of them, you’re going to find something interesting about them even if you weren’t familiar with the subject going into it.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be a CUFF event if there wasn’t some local content, and Wolves Unleashed: Against All Odds is a doc on world-renowned, Alberta-based animal trainer Andrew Simpson who has provided the natural actors for such notable productions as The Revenant and Game of Thrones; and the Canadian premiere of Weed the People that looks at the medicinal properties of marijuana, the attempts to suppress its use, and features as one of its main subjects, cannabis pioneer Mara Gordon, who is the lead researcher for Calgary food company Gabriella’s Kitchen, which has now entered into the cannabis wellness industry.
It’s another incredibly strong collection of films and should only ensure that CUFF.Docs continues to grow as a festival, outside and alongside CUFF proper and their other yearly events, and as well as the other film fests and sponsored onscreen programming that have a strong hold in this city’s cultural landscape, including the larger Calgary International Film Festival and the Quickdraw Animation Society’s smaller GIRAF, as well as the Calgary Cinematheque Society.
“It’s an excuse to get out and do something that feels social or community, but isn’t maybe not the same thing as going to the bar. It gives them something to do that’s different,” Lieberman says of the events and the audiences they attract.
“And people miss and love curated work. You miss those video store days, when you used to be able to go in and ask the people behind the counter, ‘What do you recommend?’ or you could go check out the staff’s pick list or you could look at the directors’ wall or you could look at the new releases.
“There’s so much content out there, everywhere — which app are you going to download, which station are you going to watch on your Apple TV or however you watch your content — there’s so much to choose from. And even the algorithms that Netflix or whoever is sorting out for you to even view what’s available is sometimes even skewed.
“People love when they can get recommendations or somebody has done a bit of the curatorial work for them and given them ideas for what they should see …
“This is why I think the festivals are all doing so great … where the desire is here in the city is because you have some people here helping you to discover something.”
CUFF.Docs runs Nov. 28 to Dec. 2 at the Globe Cinema. For tickets and more info please click here.