The Calgary International Film Festival kicked off its 20th anniversary event on Wednesday, Sept. 18 with a gala screening of the The Song of Names.

But that was just the beginning. The door opened just a crack. A minor taste of what’s to come for film lovers in Calgary over the next week and a half until Sept. 29.

So many movies, so many worlds to discover — what’s a prospective yyc cinephile to do?

Well, you can go it alone and take your chances, or you can take the advice of five people who allegedly know some things about some things.

That would be John Tebbutt (a.k.a. Video Vulture), Jane McCullough, Jason Lewis, Kari Watson and Mike Bell, who have all offered up their Top 3 picks for this year’s Calgary Film.

Interestingly, without being given any parameters or insight into what each other is looking forward to, the only repeat — or threepeat — is a documentary about a country music icon.

The rest, well, hopefully you find something among the suggestions that will suit your tastes and make your film fest experience a memorable one.

Z, Globe Cinema, Sept. 20 at 10 p.m. and Eau Claire, Sept. 23, 9:15 p.m.:

Children are inherently creepy. You can’t trust ’em. You don’t know what they’re really thinking. And they have tiny hands. Add into that mix an “ominous” imaginary friend and you better sleep with one eye open. Local filmmaker Brandon Christensen uses that premise with his latest picture Z, which Calgary Film has dubbed “one of the scariest Calgary made horror films of recent memory.” Should be a good ’er.

— Mike Bell

Parasite, Eau Claire 5, Sept. 21, 7 p.m. and Globe Cinema, Sept. 29, 2:45 p.m.:

Oh, man. Man, oh, man, oh, man, oh, man. South Korea just happens to have the most exciting film industry in the world at the moment. (That’s just my opinion. But it’s true.) And Parasite director Bong Joon-ho is one of the main reasons for that, having wowed us all with stuff like The Host, Mother and Snowpiercer. This latest flick won the Palme d’Or at Cannes (by unanimous vote!!), it’s a dark comedy, it’s a thriller, it’s got a crazy amount of accolades, and why are you still reading this?! Get your damn ticket!!! 

— John Tebbutt

Mystify: Michael Hutchence, Eau Claire, Sept 21, 7:45 p.m. and Studio Bell, Sept. 27 at 9 p.m.:

OK, OK. I might be suggesting this one because I loved INXS in my teens, still listen to Listen Like Thieves with gay abandon and had a major crush on Michael Hutchence. But wait! It’s more than just eye candy! This film takes a close look at his rise to fame and how his life essentially fell apart. It looks at his music, his family and features interviews with those closest to him, as well as Hutchence himself. The performance footage and personal archives will draw in the INXS fans who are looking to find out a bit more about how this talented, charismatic man found himself on the road to, inevitably, self destruction.

— Kari Watson

Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo, Globe Cinema, Sept. 21, 8:30 p.m. and Sept. 23, 9 p.m.:

Ex-con. Action hero. Your favourite thing in any Robert Rodriguez movie. What’s the story behind that world-weary, deeply crevassed face of Danny Trejo? This documentary by Canadian filmmaker Brett Harvey promises the answers. And I just can’t wait.

— Jason Lewis

Donnie Darko, Globe Cinema, Sept. 21, 12 p.m.:

Cheating? Perhaps. But the opportunity to see this cult classic on the big screen is something you shouldn’t pass up. Having watched it for the first time late and alone one night without any background or idea of what to expect was something of a revelation. It’s sad and beautiful and spooky and moving, funny, nostalgic, melancholic and a pretty special and unexpected film. And it will have you heading to your CD collection for a little Tears for Fears refresher.

— MB

White Snake, Eau Claire, Sept. 21, 12:30 p.m. and Sept. 25, 9:15 p.m.:

Chinese folklore provides inspiration for this animated fantasy about a majestic snake spirit that assumes human form and falls in love. It’s a lovely looking flight of fancy that immediately seized my attention, and I’m curious to see how it plays out.

— JT

Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band, Studio Bell, Sept. 25 at 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.:

Yes, it’s getting pilloried for the fact it’s a glossed-over and one-sided account, Robertson’s side, of his life and his time in The Band, an entity that was a collection of exceptional artists who gave us some of contemporary music’s most enduring material. But while it may play as a love letter to Robertson — the only surviving member of the group other than Garth Hudson who apparently barely appears in the film — it still features a great deal of archival material and new interviews and testimonials from Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, and Martin Scorsese, who filmed The Band’s monumental swan song The Last Waltz. That should make even a self-serving look at one of rock music’s greatest worthwhile.

— MB

Denmark, Eau Claire, Sept. 26 9:30 p.m. and Sept. 29, 6 p.m.:

This film tells the story of Herb, a man who is down on his luck and fed up with his situation. When he learns that Danish prisoners have a higher quality of life than his own, he decides to smuggle himself into Denmark so he can rob a bank and get arrested. Once he arrives, he meets some nice people and a cute dog. Will he change his mind about robbing the bank, and still find happiness in Denmark? I don’t know! Ether way, this one looks sweet and hilarious.

— Jane McCullough

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice, Studio Bell, Sept. 26, 6:30 p.m. and Eau Claire, Sept. 29, 5:15 p.m.:

When done well, music documentaries are some of my favourite films. And when they focus on women in the industry, I am especially interested. Growing up, I never fully appreciated how versatile Linda Ronstadt was – a hitmaker in so many genres of music. I am super excited to learn more about her and her legacy in this doc that promises performance footage as well as interviews with Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton. I’m in!

— JM

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice:

Music documentaries are my kryptonite, so even if this look at the life and music of legend Linda Ronstadt didn’t have a mind-blowingly good trailer, I’d still want to see it. Look, Dolly Parton, Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris all go on the record for it. Plus, I’m a sucker for vintage photos getting hyper stylized treatments in docs like this. Really, this movie is checking all the damn boxes.

— JL

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice:

You can’t not like Linda Ronstadt. Even if you’re not a fan of the music of the ’70s, you can’t help but be mesmerized by her voice when it comes on the radio. This film looks at Ronstadt’s life, spanning her musical career until illness caused her to stop singing in the ’80s. The film features performance footage and appearances by Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne to name a few, and I’m pretty sure you’ll come out of it with a greater respect and appreciation for this talented woman.

— KW

Greener Grass, Globe Cinema, Sept 27 at 10 p.m.:

This one … this one looks insane. After the trailer for it ran at Calgary Film’s Trailer Party a couple of weeks ago, the audience let out a collective WTF. Everyone wears braces — even if they don’t need them. A kid turns into a dog, and it seems normal. Someone is pregnant with a soccer ball and somewhere in there you’ve got a psycho yoga teacher killer. Picture the suburban setting of Edward Scissorhands but weirder, and more fluorescent. Dawn Leubbe and Jocelyn DeBoer are co-writers, co-directors, and co-stars of this delightfully weird film.

— KW

Why Don’t You Just Die, Globe Cinema, Sept. 28, 10 p.m.:

Just look at that trailer! It takes skill to make this amount of violence seem gleeful and hilarious, and Why Don’t You Just Die looks as electrifying as the best splatter comedy of Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson, or Takashi Miike. I’m in!

— JT

Dolemite is My Name, Globe Cinema, Sept. 28, 7 p.m.:

Why am I so interested in an Eddie Murphy vehicle that’s going to be on Netflix in a few weeks anyway? I’ll tell you why. Director Craig Brewer. His take on hip-hop stardom in Hustle and Flow was stunning. His trashy turn through exploitation in Black Snake Moan was a surprising little gem. Even his remake of Footloose was worth watching. So, you take his pedigree and combine it with a the so-crazy-it-must-be-true story of a blaxploitation legend and add a heavyweight cast that includes Wesley Snipes and Keegan-Michael Key and I’m ready to watch.

— JL

Troop Zero, Globe Cinema, Sept. 29, 7:15 p.m.:

This comedy from British female writing-directing duo Bert & Bertie stars Viola Davis and Allison Janney, which is enough reason for me to watch any film. Troop Zero tells the story of a group of elementary school outcasts who team up to infiltrate an established youth group, so they can win a talent show, and I’m sure it will be hilarious and bittersweet. Lead actress McKenna Grace, who will also appear in Ghostbusters 2020, will be in attendance. 

— JM

Calgary International Film Festival runs until Sept. 28 at various theatres around the city. For the complete schedule and to purchase tickets please go to