By Rob Scherf
“A film is, or should be, more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what’s behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later.”
Autumn is a time of rejuvenation and preparation for a new year of work. From the festive tradition of the harvest to our own rhythm of life as students, the months between August and November signify an annual flowering of creative, intellectual and exhausting endeavours. The film industry is the same way. Summer’s breezy releases, both independent and mainstream, give way to headier, more charged dramas as the awards and festival seasons heat up. Interesting and exciting films are being released with greater frequency, and will be until the new year. Even our own film festival is right around the corner. Now is the perfect time of year to be a film fan, or to become one.
Tied to the viewing and internalizing of film in Calgary, however, is our town’s own historical, economic and social situation. Just like the film industry and our own lives as students, Calgary’s current place is important to its future development. You may have noticed our fair city doesn’t have much of a cosmopolitan centre. A cultural community, yes, with our legion of small theatre companies and coffee shops, but Calgary lacks the distinct artistic identity world-class metropolises have and the towns seeking to idolize them want. The Imagine Calgary project and the recent blitzkrieg around Alberta’s 100th anniversary are two examples of our city’s grasps at identity on the national and world stage. For other intercultural hubs, like New York and Los Angeles, this push comes from identities rooted in the production and embrace of artistic media or, more specifically, film.
If Calgary’s future as a city is inseparable from its future as a filmic capital, then where do we stand now? Luckily, Calgary’s film scene is thriving. The city has a pantheon of cineplexes for those of the mainstream persuasion–and with upcoming movies like Doom and Saw 2, who isn’t? The best place to catch Hollywood movies besides second-run screens at Canyon Meadows Cinemas and Moviedome is Paramount Chinook, home of the best stadium seating and sound system in the city.
Another good option for second-run films is Cinemania. Every Monday night the University of Calgary Students’ Union presents a recent-ish Hollywood film free for students who bring their ID card. The setting, in the Science Theatre classrooms, is hardly ideal–but nobody can argue with the experience of seeing a well-known movie with a rowdy audience. Cinemania is highly recommended on those special Mondays where classics like Army of Darkness or The Royal Tenenbaums are being screened for a room full of movie nerds.
If you’re sick of price gouging at the major chains, you can check out the Plaza Theatre in Kensington, which plays an odd mix of mainstream and world cinema. The Plaza is a charmingly low-rent space, and has definitely seen better days. Still, the seats and comfortable and never knowing whether the film will be Legally Blonde 2 or City of God before you see the marquee adds an extra spice of adventure. You can also make a game of counting how many cute flubs your projectionist makes during the feature.
Calgary’s true stars are its twin downtown cinemas, the Uptown and Globe. The four screens between these theatres give us the vast majority of Calgary’s important and challenging films, and even unplanned cinematic voyages are guaranteed to yield a good film-going experience. Both cinemas have loveable quirks, from the Uptown’s strange dipped floor to the Globe manager’s always-open office door, and for Calgary film geeks these places quickly become a second home.
Movies that Matter is perhaps Calgary’s most under-rated film program. Monthly, MTM screens a documentary advocating social change or agitation at the Epcor Centre’s Engineered Air Theatre. Screenings include lengthy post-film discussions either with the director or experts on the documentary’s subject matter. These events occupy a special and unique corner of Calgary’s film scene.
Our city’s key gambit for artistic attention, however, is our still-nascent International Film Festival, running this year from Sept. 23-Oct. 2. Film Fest is the best ten days in a movie lover’s year, and this year promises to be bigger, better, and more cosmopolitan than ever before. Over 400 films will be screened this year. Festival Director David Marrelli is optimistic this might be the year Calgary really starts growing as a filmic capital.
“Film festivals are always exiting, and I think ours suits Calgary–we’re a hard working city, but also one that’s becoming more competent as a world player,” he explains. “Even though Calgary’s a smaller city it’s already an economic dynamo and the festival is a parallel to that. We meld well with the creative energy we have in the economic realm here. It’s an exciting city, and we fit well with that. We’re ambitious. At the same time we mirror that on the artistic side. We’re working toward building the film festival into a destination event.”
Marrelli’s enthusiasm for the city and its film scene is infectious. He started the CIFF six years ago with his friend while they were both in law school, hungry to bring important and dynamic film to Calgarians.
“There’s a definite confidence in the Calgary arts scene,” Marrelli says. “Fifteen or twenty years ago it was a mantra that Edmonton is the cultural capital and Calgary is the economic one. Now I would challenge that.”
Marrelli and his staff have been struggling to make the film fest as accessible as possible since its conception. Ticket prices are low so everyone can attend and enjoy Calgary and international film. But the ten-day extravaganza isn’t just about projectors and screens.
“It’s a fraternal experience, being at a festival and meeting people in line, or in the theatre,” Marrelli insists. “It’s social and dynamic in the way that going to a normal theatre isn’t. We want to bring Calgarians something interesting, some way to socialize, to network. It’s very cosmopolitan. There’s such a vibrant arts scene here [in Calgary]. It’s really exciting–there’s a lot of interesting work being done. It’s just so much going on in this town, and it’s a really incredible place to be right now. We’re heading off into the next century in a very positive light.”
Perhaps we’re about to find our centre after all.