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Our CUFF 2023 Picks Of The Festival

The Calgary Underground Film Fest celebrates 20 years of the weird, the wacky, and the truly wonderful.

by Sebastian Buzzalino

Calgary has become an emerging mecca for film in Canada, with splashy, marquee-name productions descending in Alberta to bring their visions to the silver screen (The Last of Us, The Revenant, Heartland, Fargo), but organizations like the Calgary Underground Film Festival have been anchoring the ardent film community for 20 years. Starting in 2003 with a prayer, a handful of personal credit cards, and an impossible dream, CUFF “emerges not from a conversation but from a community,” writes Peter Hemming, former CUFF president and eternal CUFF fan in the intro to this year’s program guide.

“The lightning in a bottle is really due to everyone being so willing to always help us out, lend a hand, or be creative with us,” agrees Brenda Lieberman, festival director and programmer. The 20th edition of the iconic film festival dedicated to the weird and wonderful fringes of cinema is set to launch on April 20 with the Canadian premiere of Onyx The Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls. Apropos of the festival’s raison d’être, the film is billed as “featuring terming  monsters and dark and silly laughs… a creative and joyful celebration of weirdos of all kinds.”

“The opener this year has a great indie spirit,” confirms Lieberman, “and sets the tone for the rest of the festival.”

Indie movies are the festival’s bread and butter, but CUFF is also anchored by several audience-favourite events that really stretch the possibilities of what independent film can achieve. Classic events, like the 48-Hour Movie Making Challenge, where amateur filmmakers and their teams shoot, produce, edit, and screen a short following some randomly selected narrative elements to help guide them, or the Saturday Morning All-You-Can-Eat Cereal Cartoon Party, where the festival brings in exotic sugary cereals, encourages jammies, and screens both faves and obscurities spanning almost a century of cartoons, provide the kind of community engagement and inclusive environment that continues to position CUFF as a true gem on the Canadian film landscape. Add to that a robust roster of actors, directors and guests, coming in to Calgary with the films in tow, as well as a programming directive to “continue to find these hidden gems for Calgary audiences,” as Lieberman explains, and you have all the elements for a 10-day film extravaganza sure to satiate even the most discerning of cinephiles.

If you’re new to CUFF, or just need a starting point before diving headlong into the programming, RANGE has put together our must-see picks and flicks for the fest.

ONYX THE FORTUITOUS AND THE TALISMAN OF SOULS

dir. Andrew Bowser
Thursday, April 20 @ 7:00 pm
Canadian Premiere

This year’s festival opener sets the tone for the rest of the festival. Amateur occultist Marcus J. Trillbury, aka Onyx the Fortuitous, is struggling. He’s misunderstood at home and work,, but his dreams for a new life seem to be answered when he lands a coveted invitation to the mansion of his idol, Bartok the Great, for a ritual to raise the spirit of an ancient demon. Of course, nothing is what it seems and Onyx soon must decide what he’s willing to truly sacrifice in order to meet his destiny. Based on director Andrew Bowser’s viral internet character of the same name, the opening film is a wild ride of magic, fun, Satanic worship and friendship.

After the screening, head across the street to The Derrick for the official opening night afterparty, where DJ Adam Kamis will be spinning hot tracks to soundtrack your excited review of the film.

 

SATANIC HISPANICS

various directors
Sunday, April 22 @ 9:45pm | Thursday, April 27 @ 4:00 pm
Alberta Premiere

One of the biggest pleasures at CUFF is having the opportunity to catch foreign-language films on the big screen. This anthology of five short films features some of the leading Latin American filmmakers in the horror genre, spotlighting Hispanic talent both in front and behind the camera. Bloody Disgusting reviews the anthology, saying it “celebrates Hispanic heritage and produces and eclectic mix of tales that take bold, diverse swings… a strange yet captivating journey.”

 

BAD CITY

dir. Kensuke Sonomura
Tuesday, April 25 @ 9:15 pm
Alberta Premiere

A deadly struggle for survival unfolds between the Korean mafia and the Yakuza in this high-action Japanese film. Gratuitous and meticulously choreographed violence is the name of the game for this Japanese film, which follows the struggle for power in Kaiko City between a former police captain and a corrupt businessman who runs for mayor. 

 

AMANDA

dir. Carolina Cavalli
Wednesday, April 26 @ 8:45 pm
Alberta Premiere

A coming of age story about a quirky, 20-something who moves from Paris to Italy and makes it her mission to form a true human connection, no matter how cringeworthy it may be. The titular character, Amanda, searches for boyfriends, but only finds misfits; longs for connection but has never had a friend. Director Carolina Cavalli’s debut is playful and provocative, and fans of the absurd and the oddness inherent in Greek Weird Wave cinema will find themselves enraptured by what unfolds on screen.

 

BLACK BARBIE: A DOCUMENTARY

dir. Lagueria Davis
Sunday, April 30 @ 1:00 pm
Alberta Premiere

We’ve all seen the slew of Barbie memes on social media as the major film production’s marketing machinery spins up ahead of this summer’s blockbuster season, but lost in the hilarity is the larger issue of representation in the iconic doll’s empire. Black Barbie is a personal exploration that tells a richly archival, thought-provoking story that gives voice to the insights and experiences of Beulah Mae Mitchell, director Lagueria Davis’ aunt, who spent 45 years working at Mattel. Discussing how the absence of Black images in the “social mirror” left Black girls with little other than White subjects for self-reflection and self-projection, Mitchell and other Black women in the film talk about their own complex, varied experience of not seeing themselves represented in popular culture and how the arrival of Black Barbie in 1980 affected them personally.

 

SHORTS PACKAGES

various directors | guests in attendance
Friday, April 21 @ 8:45 pm | Saturday, April 22 @ 4:15 pm | Monday, April 24 @ 6:30 pm

The shorts packages at CUFF are some of the most interesting and varied programming. Spread over three screenings, these curated packages feature some of the most unconventional storytelling and cinematography as they deliver thrills and chills in small doses. On Friday, April 21, catch the Audacious, Bold and Cunning Series, which promises to stretch the possibilities of narrative cinema. On Saturday, April 22, Chilling Encounters delivers nine short horror films that will tickle your deepest fears. And on Monday, April 24, catch Questionable Couplings, which features shorts exploring the myriad relationships people form and how getting to know someone can shape your life in small and shocking ways.

The Calgary Underground Film Festival runs April 20 to 30 | MORE INFO & TICKETS