Walk Towards the Light: 2009 Calgary Underground Film Festival

Do you love film? Have you ever been in an ecstatic state during a viewing of a movie, experienced something akin to a lucid dream watching celluloid? Are you itching to discover the next Slumdog Millionaire and become part of the process of catapulting an unknown film to fame by word of mouth? If the answer to any of these questions is yes stop trying to find your next film high in the dead end suburban multiplex and check out the sublime offerings of the Calgary Underground Film Festival running April 14-19th.

The Calgary Underground Film Festival (CUFF), now in its sixth year, has the most original programming of any local film festival, period. Sitting down with CUFF impresario and film programmer Brenda Lieberman it is easy to take your film lust and project it towards the person behind the perennial fete; Lieberman is a petite, intelligent, and alarmingly beautiful woman who has an uncanny knack for finding hidden cinematic gems. The festival has succeeded and grown by force of will and Calgary’s usual apathy towards art has been replaced with a growing group of unlikely film art converts. Lieberman speaks about this year’s titles passionately and expertly her excitement growing as her wild gesticulations resemble a neon flash from her hot pink nail polish -she is not the typical film geek. When she later admits her favourite film is Shallow Grave this reporter was smitten.

Lieberman has used her considerable talents for programming a swath of festivals including, Calgary International Film Festival, Fairy Tales, and Calgary Independent Society of Filmmakers, recently she has even been recruited for the Bahamas International Film Festival. Imagine being charged with the task of luring islanders into a dark room to watch art films-and we thought Calgary film audiences were tough! Her dedication to her craft sees her rack up film festival travel mileage comparable to a baseball team in post season but with a meagre salary that does not cover all the pages of her calendar. In the world of film festivals the programmer is not just a curator but a post facto producer and visual DJ-it is an invisible job that demands upper echelon talent. In the past festival goers were treated to a diverse treasure trove of “unknown” films like A Fistful of Quarters, On Evil Grounds, The District, and Beautiful Losers all of which went on to immediately become minor classics. It should also be noted that Beatroute had the prescience to feature these film reviews well ahead of the media pack.

This year Lieberman and her cohort Andy Eyck have chosen a handful of contemporary features and a cool collection of shorts from a field of almost 500 current titles and their picks ought to pique Calgary cinephiles’ hunger for great film. Three emerging themes for the festival this time round are monsters, quirky romance, and do-it-yourself film. But there will be plenty of variations on theme and a few interesting riffs like the documentary Veer on Portland bike culture, Tokyo in which a triumvirate of international directors pay homage to Japan’s capital, and Died Young Stayed Pretty on geek poster art. It is a relaxed festival without the corporate bores, blocks of reserved seats, and the pretentious cineastes that plague too many festivals. The films are all stellar and well vetted so no unpleasant surprises for the cautious. Best of all CUFF does not run film showings concurrently making it one of the few bona fide festivals where you can see the entirety of the offerings.

“There is nothing better than watching a crazy martial art film or bizarre Japanese indie film in a theatre with an audience around you, it is an experience that the best home theatre can’t compare with” says Lieberman. Her words take on greater gravitas when you consider the Uptown, Calgary’s storied art deco theatre and de facto film art center is the venue for the festival, including the two parties-meaning you can enjoy a beer with your movie a la Vincent Vega.

For details on film synopses, show times, and party tickets check out the CUFF website at calgaryundergroundfilm.org. While there admire the top drawer video background of Calgary’s cityscape. Get hardcore and get a five film pass and enjoy the lanyard envy from other patrons. And finally next year get your act together and submit your film for entry into the competition because you have an idea worthy of CUFF’s audience.

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