François Girard’s The Song of Names and Atom Egoyan’s Guest of Honour among highlights of 20th anniversary Calgary International Film Festival

At the lineup reveal for the 20th anniversary edition of the Calgary International Film Festival, you’d think new artistic director Brian Owens would be in a pretty good place, revelling in a job well done for the first fest he’s helmed in his new home.

And, yes, while Owens, who came to this city following a decade as AD of the Nashville Film Festival previously founding the Indianapolis International Film Festival in 2004, is quite pleased with the results, there’s still much work to come.

“I’m felling very happy with the lineup,” he says prior to the Wednesday launch at 8th. Ave. eatery Paper St., which will act as the de facto home base for the annual cinephile feast.

“It’s still coming together, though. There will probably be more films announced after this main announcement …

“I come from a film festival in the spring, where you could just lock everything in, whereas I’m now learning that the fall things are much more fluid.”

Let’s focus, though, on the bulk of the films that are cemented into place for the fest, which runs this year Sept. 18 to 29 on almost a dozen screens around the city. It’s an incredible collection of entries from across the globe, many award-winning, most critically acclaimed, all worthy of being part of the landmark 20th edition of the festival.

That begins with the opening gala, which is The Song of Names, the latest film from Quebecois director François Girard (The Red Violin). The picture, which stars Tim Roth and Clive Owen, will kick things off grandly with a Sept. 8 screening at the Jack Singer Concert Hall.

“It’s similar to The Red Violin,” Owens says of the film. “It’s an epic that spans decades and is centred around classical music.”

The film was chosen primarily because Calgary Film often opens with Canadian-made offerings, and Owens calls Girard “one of the great working Canadian directors.”

“But also because of the fact we open in Jack Singer Concert Hall, having a film that’s centred around classical music just felt right. And I think when people see the final scene they’ll know exactly why we chose it.”

Different this year is the fact that there are two closing night films that will wrap things up at the Globe Cinema, “so that people will have a choice before they go to the party.” In fact, with Paper St. and several other establishments along the stretch of 8th Ave. S.W. from 5th to 6th St. — Junction Stage + Bar, The Derrick, and State & Main — they’re turning that final night into a block party, with pop-ups, custom cocktails, music and more. 

As for the films, one is Atom Egoyan’s Guest of Honour, which stars David Thewlis and Luke Wilson, and the other is still to be announced. (Note: I know what it is. And it should be amazing.)

Other notable films sandwiched between the galas include: director Bong Joon-ho’s Palm D’or-winning thriller Parasite, making it the first Korean film to do so; Portrait of a Lady On Fire, a French historical, romantic drama from Céline Sciamma, which earned Best Screenplay and the Queer Palm prize at Cannes this year; the biopic Judy starring Renee Zellweger in the titular role of Judy Garland; an acclaimed documentary on jazz great Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool; Ira Sachs’ drama Frankie starring Marisa Tomei, Greg Kenner, Brendan Gleeson and Isabelle Huppert; Calgary director Semi Chellas’s American Woman, which is based on the Patty Hearst affair; the surreal Sundance comedy Greener Grass; and the self-explanatory doc Assholes: A Theory.

Again, there are still some more films yet to be announced, due to such things as other festival commitments and licensing agreements, which, while making Owens’ job not yet complete, also adds a sense of excitement that should carry through until opening night.

“There’s an OCD side of me that finds it a little tough to deal with,” he says, “but it’s also kind of exciting just because when titles become available to you last second and you’re able to fit them in, that’s big news.”

As for what’s already been announced, Owens gives a great deal of the credit to the team of programmers already in place, as well as their openness to working with him and his vision.

And if there was any pressure on him and any grand expectations — this being his first Calgary Film, it being the event’s 20th — that, he says, was mainly internal.

“Maybe from me,” he says. “I don’t think necessarily from anyone else in the organization …I think really the pressure was making sure that my style came in and was able to integrate with the programming team and I think that we did it really well. The lineup itself is really exciting, and as I mentioned there’s really more to come.”

Owens says he made the move up north, mainly because he wanted a new challenge and saw what the festival had built in its first 20 years and wanted to help propel it forward.

“I want to see this continue to grow,” he says.

“It’s one of the Top 6 festivals in the country, and that’s great … we want to see more people outside of the city, outside of the province start looking at our festival and saying, ‘That’s one I have to be a part of, that’s one I want to get to some day.’

“It’s not just about being TIFF west, it’s about also creating a unique identity for the festival that has a brand that excites filmmakers and excites film-lovers to want to come and be a part of it.”

The Calgary International Film Festival runs Sept. 18 to 29. Tickets and the schedule are available now from