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The Song of Nature, photo courtesy of Serendipity Point Films

Calgary International Films Festival celebrates 20th year with stacked lineup

By Troy Hasselman, September 9 2019 —

The Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF), which turns Calgary into a global film hub over 12 days in September, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year with a stacked lineup that includes a healthy mixture of local-fare, genre pieces, foreign gems and Oscar contenders. 


“We’ll be running this year on 11-plus screens across downtown Calgary, so we’re really excited to take over the center of this city,” says CIFF Executive Director Steve Schroeder.


CIFF had its inaugural edition in 2000 and was a quick success, with the festival only growing in size and scope since.


“The festival started in 2000 with quite a huge bang for a new festival — we had 8,000 people come to that first edition over five days,” Schroeder says. “Eight thousand people is smaller than we are now but for a new festival starting up in a city with very little budget, no track record, no funding, almost no sponsors, very little media, to have 8,000 Calgarians come out and embrace something like that which was just starting cold really told us we were going to be a great film festival city.”


This year brought 2,808 film submissions to the festival from around the world, reflecting the considerable growth the festival has made in its 20 years of existence.


The festival will open this year with François Girard’s The Song of Names, which will be screened on Sept. 18 at the Jack Singer Concert Hall. The film is a period-drama slated to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this week.


“The film stars Tim Roth and Clive Owen as two friends and musicians, who grew up together on the eve of World War Two,” says CIFF Artistic Director Brian Owens. “It’s an emotional detective story that follows them across two continents and four decades.”


The festival’s closing gala will have two separate films this year, with one to be named at a later date and another being Atom Egoyan’s Guest of Honour which will follow the story of a vengeful food inspector played by David Thewlis. 


Local films featured in the festival include the psychological-horror True Fiction from Canadian writer/director Braden Croft, which was filmed in Calgary and will have a red carpet screening on Sept. 26 at the Globe Cinema. Z is another locally-made horror film, from Calgarian Brandon Christenson which tells a Shining-like story of a couple tormented by their young son’s imaginary friend and will have a red carpet screening on Sept. 20 at the Globe Cinema. Family-drama Root of the Problem was also filmed in Calgary and will have a red carpet screening at the Globe Cinema on Sept. 21.


Other highlights of the festival include Parasite, the South Korean black-comedy from Bong Joon-ho which took home the prestigious Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The French period-drama Portrait of a Lady on Fire from director Céline Sciamma will also screen at the festival — the film won several awards at Cannes and is generating Oscar buzz. Rupert Goold’s Judy Garland biopic Judy, starring Renée Zellwegger, will also screen at the festival.


CIFF is set to run Sept.18–29 on screens across Calgary. For a full schedule of the festival, a list of theatres involved and information on tickets and passes visit the festival website.


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