Opinions & Features Workshop (Oct 26th)

Photo courtesy Lisa Amos // GlobalFest

GlobalFest 2021: Part two — firecrackers in the Calgary night sky

By Rachneet Randhawa, September 15 2021—

GlobalFest once more put on a dazzling display of fireworks alongside showcasing multicultural performances and a scrumptious palette of food trucks galore. Originally launched in 2003, GlobalFest is an annual cultural celebration organized by The Calgary Fireworks Festival Society and consists of two key themes — the OneWorld Festival and the International Fireworks Festival. The Gauntlet sat down with Chief Operating Officer Kevin Goosen to learn more about the format of the popular festival.

Like many large-scale public events, COVID-19 transformed the programming of the festival. The festival organizers were very aware of taking the appropriate safety precautions of the overall setup to make those in attendance feel safe and secure. This year they doubled the number of stages from two to four and increased the park’s permitted capacity to allow for social distancing measures with 80 per cent of the park marked optional and 20 per cent marked mandatory with demarcated boundaries fenced off for participants. Masks were required in the shuttle buses on par with public transportation requirements in the city. 

As for how COVID affected the actual fireworks display, Goosen mentioned that they had to reduce the size of the fireworks as they couldn’t bring in supplies internationally and as it was difficult to ship in production from overseas due to many ports and factories being closed off. They overcame this hurdle by working with all the fireworks products that were available in Canada. As a result, the designs changed, reducing the elevation for the fireworks shells this time around. In compliance with social distancing measures, they opened up an entirely new area of the park called Southview for those superfans that love the loudness of fireworks as they get a front-row seat that’s super close to the fireworks display but done so at a safe distance. 

Despite all the restrictions they had to remove festival favourites like the Children’s Area, Pavilions and the Night Market, with the overall focus being on the performances, many fun food trucks and of course the fireworks show which promptly began at 9:30 p.m. over the five days of the event. 

The festival was also a foodie lover’s paradise catering to diverse ethnic cuisines from around the world. 

“We curate as much of the food as we can to make sure that what is being offered really is a tremendous statement to the culture,” says Goosen. “I would say that 50 per cent of the food kiosks we have this year are international in nature.” 

Many of the local vendors come from 17th Avenue, or International Avenue, whether they were local food trucks or restaurants that are supporting their respective community associations. Some of the dishes they offer aren’t found anywhere in the city. They even featured cooking shows based on Francophone inspired cuisine and another with a Blackfoot Indigenous chef as part of their GlobalFest Flavours programming. 

As for the performances, 29 groups were performing at different times throughout the five nights. Everything from Samba Brazil from Brazil, Yama no Oto and Yosca from Japan, Ulduz Dance group from Iran and so much more. Best of all, performers were locally based and recruited from dance schools and cultural groups with the occasional guest appearance from abroad. Because a lot of the funding for GlobalFest comes from the federal government, they must advocate for Canadian heritage, including supporting the local arts and culture scene so the majority of the performers must also be residents of Calgary. Overall, a little bit of everything from the ethnic foods, performance opportunities and community associations are there to help them build up their membership and results in greater community exposure and the feeling of belonging in a big city like Calgary. 

For firework design, there are both artistic criteria and product criteria for designers to follow. There is a catalogue of fireworks products you have to choose from which is quite massive. Kelly Guile and Archangel Fireworks are responsible to describe and translate the product as a lot goes into the groundwork of designing the show including the special effects. 

For instance, one of their cool firework effects is to design something that utilizes the lake. They do this by not only using the lake as a mirror but directly shooting the firework effects into the lake which will either float, burn or spin on the surface of the lake and disrupt the water. The goal of the lake is not only to be a reflective surface but also a launch platform. Each team has a designer who works with a specific adjudicator that’s a fine artist, musician or something similar. Together they work to bring about synchronicity, ensuring the fireworks match the music, and must look at little details like colour selections and timing as the effects must break and open alongside the music. Despite it all being computerized, what many don’t know is that hours and hours go into designing each show. On average it takes them an hour for every minute of the display and takes at least an investment of three days to build.

As for my own experience, I attended the event on June 24 during the Japan theme day and arrived just shortly past 7 p.m. I was surprised to see that despite COVID-19 having ravaged many public events, how packed full of festivities it was. True, it wasn’t the typical scene as I appreciated the night market and discovering jewelry from local artisans, but the organizers made an effort to create a safe, secure and spacious environment for all to enjoy. 

It’s probably the most spaced out it has ever been reaching to farther corners of Elliston park with extra stages for the special masked zones. I had the chance to check out the VIP Village which admittedly does give the best view of the fireworks show. Compared to my last visit years ago, it was definitely a toned down version of what it once was. But I have a feeling with all the extra programming and servitude GlobalFest offers to the Calgary community, it’s bound to come back stronger than ever for next year in 2022. 

Oftentimes I have wondered why growing up, that there’s a lack of genuine “multicultural” celebration in the city and why so much of the time we stick to our isolated silhoes in our cultural communities. And of course if there is any, it’s made a stereotype without actually understanding the other person’s point of view. GlobalFest does challenge that status quo by not only giving us annual entertainment but raises awareness and advocacy for controversial issues with their human rights dialogues and youth education. Much like their fantastical fireworks, GlobalFest once more has knocked it out of the park and beyond.


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