By Kyle Francis
Each fall, people flock from around the country to experience Calgary’s world-class international film festival. Showcasing some of the best (and some of the worst) movies to ever screen in Calgary, the Calgary International Film Festival has emerged successful from the sludge of smaller-scale festivals, standing as one of the largest promoters of burgeoning talent in Canada and beyond. The Calgary Underground Film Festival on the other hand, which kicks off at the Uptown and Hi-Fi Club next week, stands for something rather different.
“I guess it’s just films you wouldn’t be able to see anywhere else,” says Brenda Lieberman, CUFF co-founder. “We try to get films that we don’t think will get a theatrical release, and we often end up with stuff that the CIFF was trying to get, but couldn’t. It’s just a case of timing, and sometimes the type of festival the filmmakers want their work shown at.”
“Quality is still our number one criteria,” adds Andy Eyck, another of the festival’s co-founders. “It’s just not about the money.”
Established in 2003, the CUFF showcases films for Calgarians that might not otherwise be screened in North America before being relegated to the ‘special interest’ section of mainstream video stores. Pushing boundaries in all categories, the CUFF screens the latest horror, sci-fi, comedy, fantasy and thriller films from all over the world, including some that have had audiences faint at their initial screenings.
“Every aspect of life–from the mundane to the utterly morbid–is reflected in art,” says Eyck. “To use a current example: we aren’t a grindhouse festival.”
Like any art form that strives after avant garde credibility, explicitness simply for the sake of it can be criticized in film as well. At times it can be a last-ditch attempt to be noticed in an ever-more-crowded community or an effort to cover up for an obviously lacking budget, but sometimes–sometimes–it actually serves a purpose.
“I think it comes down to the programmers,” say Lieberman. “We aren’t going to screen sex just to increase box office sales. We actually had a lot more explicit films to choose from, and what we ended up with was actually fairly conservative. It’s kind of a smattering of films from festivals that we admire around the world.”
Accessibility can be another problem for a collection of intentionally lofty artwork. While appealing to beret-wearing Brecht zealots might consciously brand an event in a desirable way, it’s not likely to bring in many dollars from the average person looking to unwind after work.
“Our audience is usually a younger demographic,” says Eyck. “There’s really something for everyone, though. It can be enjoyed by people of any age.”
“My parents actually came to the last one,” laughs Lieberman. “And hey, if someone’s not well-versed in film, the fact that we’re in a bar might warm them up to us.”