Calgary Culture: Film Festivals for All

logos for 3 film festivals

While attending a film festival screening last night, I got to thinking that Calgary really has a lot to offer film buffs. Almost any month of the year, there’s a cinematic festival lighting up big screens somewhere in the city.

Reel Fun Film Festival (February)

I discovered this non-profit event through my colleague Mike, who serves on the festival’s Board of Directors. He and his fellow organizers program films that will appeal to “all ages, from 4 to 104”.

I saw If I Had Wings, a Canadian production about a blind teenager who dreams of running for his high school’s cross-country team. He needs a partner to help him, and finds one in a troubled classmate. It’s a well-written and beautifully filmed story about the unlikely friendship that forms. A pleasant surprise was the  post-screening chat with actress Jessica Harmon, who played the track coach in the film. She’s also one of the movie’s associate producers. She shared some of the challenges the team had over the 7-year journey of the production and insights on how the talented sighted actor in the lead role prepared for his scenes as a blind youth.

The festival runs annually in February. Every year, the Saturday old-fashioned family matinee, is an audience favourite. The event features one or more silent movies accompanied by a live soundtrack. Local musician Chris Maric uses his crazy collection of instruments and noise-makers to bang out music and sound effects in real time as the story unfolds onscreen. Afterwards, kids are welcomed up to the stage to try out the instruments. This is a rare opportunity to get an old-fashioned pre-“talkie” experience, so catch it if you can!

Our red carpet moment at the Reel Fun Film Festival

Our red carpet moment at the Reel Fun Film Festival

Calgary International Film Festival  (September)

This is the city’s premier festival, attracting the biggest budget films, and even an occasional star or two. It’s not on the same level as Toronto’s TIFF but the closest thing to it for Calgarians, and a high calibre festival. I’ve seen some wonderful movies here, including Academy Award-nominated Whiplash and The Valley Below, a gorgeous atmospheric Alberta production.

In addition to the main event in September, organizers partner with Hot Docs to screen monthly documentaries November through April. They call the program Doc Soup.

In February 2015, CIFF hosted  TIFF’s  “Canada’s Top 10 Film Festival” featuring the best Canadian productions selected by a TIFF panel. Hopefully this will become an annual event.

Justice Film Festival (November)

This festival focuses on documentaries that promote global citizenship and understanding. It’s affiliated with similar events in other Canadian cities. My friend Claudine volunteers with the organization. She got involved not only because she enjoys the films herself, but because it stimulates discussion about important issues.

In addition to the week-long main event, they host a number of free documentary film nights throughout the year. Each screening includes a post-show discussion with knowledgeable facilitators, some of whom were involved in making the films. In recent years, I’ve seen thought-provoking productions on the topics of 3rd world garment factories and nuclear energy, among others.

Even more movies

It doesn’t end there – far from it. Here’s a list of other film festivals hosted in Calgary throughout the year:

  • January:
    • Banff Mountain Film Festival – mountain adventure-themed films from Canada and around the globe. The main event is in Banff, and they also screen one or more shows in Calgary in the weeks following the festival.
  • February/March:
    • $100 Film Festival – They’ve moved well beyond the $100 budgets of their early days, but still screen only “small format” movies shot with 16 mm and Super8 celluloid. Imagine – films that are actually shot on film! Word of warning: the programming tends to be highly experimental. This one is best for hardcore enthusiasts and keen students of film technique. When I tried it out, it was a bit too avant-garde for me.
  • March:
    • Picture This Film Fest – a three-day event screening movies about disabilities and/or created by people with disabilities.
  • April
  • November
    • European Film Festival – contemporary movies from Europe, as the name would suggest
    • Jewish Film Festival – a longstanding celebration of the Jewish experience on-screen, hosted by the local Beth Tzedec synagogue
    • CUFF Docs – an international documentary festival from the organizers of CUFF
  • Month varies
    • Arab Film Nights – a new, hopefully annual event screening a small number of films from the Arab world along with pre-show receptions

Let me know if I missed any, and happy viewing. Suddenly I’m craving popcorn.

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