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How to enjoy the Calgary Underground Film Festival

By Kent Wong, April 5 2016 —

I’ve been going to the Calgary Underground Film Festival for years. The week-long event presents local and international independent films at the Globe Cinema. It’s not just the flicks that draw people in — guest attendances, special events and cheap booze also make the festival stand out.

Festivals like CUFF can seem intimidating at first. Fifty-seven films are showing throughout the week, and it’s tough to decide which ones to check out. I chatted with lead programming director Brennan Tilley to get some festival tips.

1. Do your research

While there are plenty of movies screening in larger theatres year-round, Tilley thinks it’s worth heading to the Globe Cinema for CUFF.

“I honestly think CUFF is better than the multiplexes in April,” he says. “Not every film is going to be to everyone’s taste, but rarely would a CUFF selection be considered average.”

A safe bet is a movie that’s already traveled to other film festivals and received accolades there. Coming-of-age film First Girl I Loved is showing after winning the Audience Choice Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. And Art of the Prank, a documentary about a hoax artist, won awards at a number of festivals in the United States. CUFF will be its Canadian premiere.

Everybody Wants Some is showing, a Richard Linklater film that’s a pseudo-sequel to the director’s cult classic Dazed and Confused.

Short films at the festival are another good choice. There are 16 short films playing in two themed blocks during the week.

“If you’re having trouble settling on a feature everyone will like, the shorts packages are a good option for something for everyone,” Tilley says. “Dark and Delicious is mostly horror. Strange Things Are Afoot is more mixed.”

2. See movies while they’re in town — instead of on Netflix

Most independent films don’t see theatrical release outside of festivals like CUFF. Movies might eventually make their way onto streaming services like Netflix, but often the only way to see these films after a screening is through less than scrupulous methods.

“The vast majority of the films I watch are on my television or computer — it would not be possible to watch as much as I do any other way,” Tilley says. “To me, this does not replace the experience of watching films in a theatre with an audience.”

Filmmakers are often present at screenings to chat with the audience and answer questions. One such attendee is the director of Patchwork, a horror-comedy about three women who become stitched together into one sentient being.

“It’s a much better experience than watching the film at a regular screening in a theatre three months later or on Netflix more than a year later,” Tilley says.

3. Check out local flicks

According to Tilley, six films at CUFF are connected to Calgary. One film documents Wreck City, a local art collective that uses pre-demolition buildings as art venues.

“We have the world premiere of Wreck City: An Epilogue for 809,” Tilley says. “This will have a huge presence of local artists — the filmmakers, many of the 150 artists that worked on the Wreck City project, musicians and maybe a few pieces at the after-party. Throughout the festival, local and visiting artists will be interacting with attendees and each other.”

Many short films — showing before feature-length flicks and as part of shorts packages — also have big connections to the city.

4. Attend non-movie CUFF events

The festival enlisted five local video game developers to turn their indie releases into arcade games for CUFFcade. The games, which include titles like Semispheres and 3, 2, 1, Grenades!, are free to play in the lobby of the Globe Cinema.

Another CUFF staple returns with the Saturday Morning All-You-Can-Eat Cereal Cartoon Party — a line-up of retro cartoons with a buffet of sugary cereal. It’s certainly what I’m most excited for.

For more information about CUFF and a full schedule, visit calgaryundergroundfilm.org,

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