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Calgary International Film Festival Amplifies Music and Homegrown Talent On Screen

Returning for its 24th year, the annual film festival's 2023 programming is shaping up to be everything we hoped for.

by Sebastian Buzzalino

It would seem as though Christmas comes in September for cinephiles in Alberta. The Calgary International Film Festival just announced its first wave of films for the 24th iteration of the sprawling silver screen celebration and they’re doubling down on their support of Alberta-created and -produced films.

The film industry has been growing steadily in Alberta, with several high-profile films and television shows being produced in recent years (Last of Us, The Revenant, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Land). But it’s not just A-listers descending on the foothills to produce films: Alberta locals have been stepping up their game in a major way, cementing Calgary as an alternative destination to Hollywood North (Vancouver) for independent productions, both narrative and documentary.

“This year’s spotlight of Alberta content showcases one of the most diverse programs we have yet to display for what our locals are creating. We have a variety of World Premieres from several first-time feature directors… also showcasing a variety of formats and genres, from documentary to dance, Indigenous stories, web series, horror, thrillers and a local period piece,” says Brenda Lieberman, CIFF Lead Programmer.

As part of Alberta Spotlight this year, CIFF is set to premiere a diverse slate of films, including: the Alberta premiere of Aitamaako’tamisskapi Natosi: Before the Sun (dir. Banshee Hanuse), a portrait of a young Siksika woman as she prepares for one of the most dangerous horse races in the world; the world premiere of DROP (dir. Ramin Eshraghi-Yazdi), which explores an aging contemporary dancer with a shady past who has to deal with an unknown future; the world premiere of Tales From the Rez (dirs. Trevor Solway and Colin Ahnahktsipiitaa Van Loon), a six-part horror comedy web series that creatively adapts popular Blackfoot traditional tales for the screen.

Music has always been central to CIFF’s programming and this year marks the return of the beloved series, Music on Screen. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, CIFF welcomes Chad VanGaalen as Black Mold back to the live scoring floor. His live score of Nosferatu last year was one of the highlights of the festival and this year’s celebration of the iconic film promises to live up to the hype — that goes down on September 27 at Knox United Church for a one-of-a-kind experiential night at the intersection of music and film. 

If classic movie documentaries are more your speed, CIFF announced today ample programming for the curious, including: the Alberta premiere of Joan Baez: I Am A Noise (dirs. Miri Navasky, Maeve O’Boyle, Karen O’Connor), an honest and introspective look at the storied singer’s career; the Alberta premiere of The Stones and Brian Jones (dir. Nick Broomfield), which dives deep into the Stones’ secret weapon, the musical genius of Brian Jones; and the Canadian premiere of Patria Y Vida: The Power Of Music (dir. Beatriz Luengo), an inspiring story about the value of music as a social transformer featuring six Afro-Cuban rappers and their battle for human rights.

CIFF 2023 runs Sept. 21 to Oct. 1, 2023. For more information and to see the full first wave lineup, head to ciffcalgary.ca.