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ESCape is at hand for Calgary’s sci-fi fantasy fans with new film festival

Cinema lovers in Calgary are a lucky bunch. It seems you can’t go more than a few weeks without a film festival of some description coming out of the woodwork, doing battle with the streaming services in the hopes of drawing audiences to an actual movie house. The jaded among us might hear news of the inaugural ESCape Film Festival taking over The Globe Cinema this February and think, “Does this town really need another film festival?” 

According to film lover and festival booker Paul Stickney, the answer is a resounding yes. “How many days of the year are there?” he asks. “You could do festivals right through all the time because there is so much content out there”

For five nights, the ESCape Film Festival is filling the post-awards-season, late-February cinematic void with a generous helping of sci-fi and fantasy. From the family classic E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, to straight-up action of The Matrix, the festival offers a solid lineup of modern classics guaranteed to appeal to the inner-nerd in all of us. Sure, some of us wore out our VHS copy of The Lost Boys back in the day, but ESCape is offering filmgoers something rare, the chance to see these pop-culture behemoths on the big screen. 

“There’s a thing when you love a film so much you just want to see it that way because it’s a bigger presentation,” says Stickney. “You’re almost more in it in a way. Watching something in a cinema really helps give you that feeling. And then on top of that, just visually some of these films are so cool that … you feel that there is a desire to see it on the big screen.”

Having worked on and off at the Globe Cinema since opening day in the mid-’90s, Stickney is all about seeing movies in the theatre. Admittedly, his one-a-day movie habit is supplemented by the titles he watches at home, but this festival grew out of his personal desire to see two movies in particular — Aliens, James Cameron’s high-octane sequel to Alien, and cult favourite The Crow. “Those were the films that really made me start thinking like sci-fi and fantasy,” says Stickney. “(Then I thought), ‘What other titles?’ And then I came up with a list of 150 pretty fast.”

The list was lovingly whittled down to 10, to include a 20th anniversary screening of the Star Trek send-up Galaxy Quest and director Zack Snyder’s comic book adaptation The Watchmen, which is screening 10 years to day of its original release. The lineup is rounded out with the George Lucas-Ron Howard collaboration Willow, the gamer fantasy The Last Starfighter and Paul Verhoven’s satirical Starship Troopers. 

Obviously, Stickney’s goal is to draw an audience, but at the same time he’s hoping to build a community. It’s one thing to love a shamelessly entertaining bit of sci-fi fantasy, but it is something else altogether to watch that movie with a room full of people who feel the same way. “The reason that we did this is because we love these films in the science fiction and fantasy genres,” says Stickney, “but… these are fan films and fan films will branch out from there so with ESCape, this can evolve and have flexibility.”

So even though the ESCape Film Festival is only in its first year, Stickney is already thinking about re-upping for next year. And why not? He’s still got another 140 movies on his list. 

The ESCape Film Festival runs February 21 to 25 at the Globe Cinema. For the complete list of films, showtimes and tickets please go to escfest.com.

Jason Lewis is a writer and TV producer who not-so-secretly aspires to have a one-a-day movie habit.

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