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The Calgary International Film Festival’s Bold New Vision for the Future of Cinema

On the heels of losing its home of more than a decade, CIFF is shaking up the format ahead of their 25th anniversary. 

by Liam Dawe

As venues for independent cinema disappear from the downtown core, the Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF) has opened up its transformative Constellation model to the cosmos with its sights set on flexibility, mobility, and collaboration.

While the film industry in Calgary is still riding the economic highs from blockbuster productions such as Prey and HBO’s The Last of Us, the city’s independent film community is experiencing growing pains due to a lack of downtown screening options.

At the beginning of May 2024, the Eau Claire Market Cineplex formally closed its doors to the public, as the aging mall will soon be demolished, to make way for the next phase of development on the Green Line LRT. With that, the downtown film community loses another six theatres, including Calgary’s original IMAX, and CIFF says goodbye to its festival hub for more than 10 years. Since 1999, 85 per cent of cinema-ready screens have been closed in the downtown core. 

Displaced with few viable options to fallback onto, CIFF announced plans for the next three years ahead of its 25 year anniversary this September. 

Dubbed as the Constellation, CIFF’s new model promises to connect Calgary’s core through a string of new venues; activating multi-purpose spaces, public plazas and partnered hosts along the way. To actualize this cultural corridor, the festival revealed its intent to acquire a fleet of six additional state-of-the-art DCI (Digital Cinema Initiatives) compliant projectors, each with the flexibility to be redeployed as needed in order to transform indoor spaces into cinema-ready screening locations. CIFF already owns one of these projectors, currently housed at the Globe cinema, and plans to purchase two more at a time over the next three years.

“It’s bold, it’s audacious, yet it’s incredibly realistic and attainable,” said acting executive director Katherine Penhale during Tuesday’s press conference at the Plaza theatre. 

CIFF25 will introduce the activation of its West Constellation, which sees a variety of partners enter the fold as host venues; including the Plaza Theatre, the Globe Cinema, and Contemporary Calgary. Given the uncertainty surrounding current infrastructure for screenings in the core, Penhale suggests that the Constellation blueprint gives the festival more security moving forward.

“This is a model that  keeps us super flexible (and) the investment is super low. While a future permanent home for CIFF isn’t off the table, it’s not a model that we think is the safest or smartest to pursue right now because it also means that we collaborate less and we then become a bit of a monolith,” says Penhale. “What we think is exciting is the ability to really be part of the community and be more active in the community on a year round basis.”

CIFF plans to make its inventory of DCI-compliant projectors available as a year-round community resource.

While the Eau Claire cinemas are now a part of history, the festival has upheld their partnership with Cineplex for at least one more year, as Canada’s biggest theatre chain has offered the use of its Chinook location to CIFF, operating as a fourth venue this fall. 

“I don’t know in future years if we’ll continue to use Cineplex (further) down the line, but what I do know is that this year, we’re really excited for the opportunity,” says Penhale. “We think it gives us access to a whole new set of audiences. This gives us a different level of exposure, so we’re excited to explore it and see how it works for the festival.”

The new-look Calgary International Film Festival returns in 2024, Sept. 19 to 29.

Visit ciffcalgary.ca for more information.