Screen Time: Calgary International Film Festival another bountiful event for local cinephiles — housebound or in theatre

Learn from your past.

As we head into Year No. 2 of COVID-ity it couldn’t be a more meaningful mantra — especially for seasonal events and happenings, such as the Calgary International Film Festival.

The fest, once again, will feature an eclectic mix of offerings — fictional, non, shorts, etc. — from around the globe in a pandemic-friendly hybrid of in-person screenings and at-home viewings.

And, with lessons learned, CIFF are moving ahead into 2021 with a lineup of films that should more than move the needle for local film lovers.

“Starting last year, we’ve operated from the mindset that our programming is put on a dial — and we can dial up or dial down, depending on what the circumstances are,” says Brian Owens, the fest’s artistic director and programmer of the Canadian and international documentary features.

With early announcements, it’s full-on, turned up to 11, this year. From a stacked Music On Screen series to groundbreaking local entries, it’s shaping up to be another sensational celebration of indie film — with lessons learned.

And it all kicks off with Michael McGowan’s (Score: A Hockey Musical) presenting his new film All My Puny Sorrows, which is based on the international best-selling novel by Miriam Toews.

“The programming team, at large, were all really happy with how things came together this year, “ says Owens. 

“I don’t want to say it was as hard as last year, but the considerations certainly are different — the good thing is we had practise this time. We’re not dealing with anything that’s new so much as just trying to figure out what parts we want to redo that we did last year, what parts we want to change from last year … It’s been unique.”

He continues. “There’s a few more studios that prefer their movies not play on the at-home space, so we had to make that adjustment. And trying to figure out how we’re going to space people out in theatres, there’s just been so many things to consider. But I think we’ve got our plans in place and we’re all pretty satisfied with it …

“I think people are going to be, hopefully, they’re going to be somewhere as nearly as thrilled as I was when we got all of the final pieces in place,” Owens says.

“Every continent is represented, our competition features are an exact split of 50-50 of male and female directors, filmmakers of colour have the largest representation, it’s one of the best Indigenous selections … and there’s going to be big-name stars in some of our special presentations and just some of the best movies of the year.”

He references film website thefilmexperience.net, which predicts “15 Oscar nominations for the movies that we’ve got programmed. And that’s not counting, he hasn’t started yet on documentaries or any short films.

“So it should be a record-breaking year in that sense. But I’m really proud of what the team put together and the work we put in to get this lineup, I think it’s going to be a really impressive one.”

Owens says that’s partially due to the fact the world is opening back up and the film industry is dipping its toes into the regional film festival pools to attempt to bring viewers back to the big screen.

“A lot of studios and producers are looking at festivals like ours,” he says, “as the stepping stone to draw people back into cinemas. So that’s where I think we were able to score some big, exciting titles.”

Tickets are on sale now for CIFF, which runs Sept. 23 to Oct. 3 with in-cinema screenings at the Globe, Eau Claire and Contemporary Calgary.

Well. That’s the plan. And obviously with lessons learned from the past year, organizers are keeping on top of the ever-changing health protocols, to ensure that whatever comes at them, they’re able to deal with it. 

“If we do go into total lockdown, we’ve already got 72 movies that will be available to be seen at home, along with all 10 shorts programs, and those remaining 30ish titles that so far want to be in-cinema only, we would just re-approach them to see if there’s any interest in moving into the at-home space if we’re not able to go in-cinema.”

In-cinema, at-home, CIFF is already shaping up to be another stunning event for yyc cinephiles.

To guide you, Owens walked us through the series and films which have already been announced — with a handful of programmed films exclusively revealed by theSCENE.

We’ll post them in the next few days leading up to the festival.