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CUFF 2024: Mike Peterson on Department of Paranormal Affairs

By Ansharah Shakil, April 22 2024—

The Calgary Underground Film Festival (CUFF) is one of Calgary’s most celebrated film festivals not only for its widely recognized, convention-defying film schedules but for its inclusion of local films and filmmakers. The local episodic series Department of Paranormal Affairs, directed by Calgary-based filmmaker Mike Peterson, is a perfect example of how local talent is emphasized in CUFF’s line-up. 

“I think it’s good for people to see what is being made here locally by local creators, to show them what we’re capable of and to support local artists doing things that can stand on an international quality,” Peterson told the Gauntlet. “It is one of those exciting showcases of completely local talent which I am a huge supporter of. It’s not that often we get to watch our own Canadian projects in Canada.”

Department of Paranormal Affairs consists of six mini-episodes in a duration of one hour and follows three civil servants who solve the day-to-day problems of paranormal creatures: director Greg LeGrow (Donovan Workun) and employees Scott Power (David Feehan) and Jenny Hicks (Nancy Ngo). It will have its world premiere at CUFF.

“I love CUFF. I’ve had a lot of films in it over the years, it’s a festival I’m always honoured to be included in,” said Peterson. “It’s a festival that treats filmmakers really well and has a reputation internationally.”

Inspired by shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation, he called Department of Paranormal Affairs a workplace comedy taking place in a world where the supernatural exists. 

“It’s a very Canadian-centric comedy and uses the supernatural as a good metaphor to speak about Canadian society at large,” he said. “It appeals to a broad audience.”

Peterson’s favourite paranormal creature is the chupacabra, but the series itself covers creatures from ghosts to shapeshifters to vampires. Jenny even dates one in an episode.

“Dating’s already difficult, so add interspecies romance issues onto that and more complexity, more room to have comedy,” he noted.

In the series, these kinds of creatures experience the same kind of life problems and romantic troubles we do. They are made as relatable and humorous as the main characters, who are distinct and loveable in their personalities. 

“I love it when people laugh,” Peterson said. “It’s one of those wonderful things that I don’t think people do enough, so if we can make people laugh, I think it does something to make the world or even that person’s day slightly better.”

As the director, he explained his perspective of the show as being a caretaker of the overall story, and expressed enjoyment over being able to collaborate with the cast and crew.

“It was a really strong collaboration where I got to bring in my experience and my sense of humour and add some jokes and shape some episodes in ways that everyone was cool with,” he said. “[Going] back and forth with ideas and working with a good group of people in a collaborative way [is] probably the closest thing you can think of to magic, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

With the series, Peterson looks forward to being able to entertain and inspire audiences, as well as connect with the local art community in Calgary.

“When we get a chance to show work […] in front of our local community and colleagues it always feels a little extra special to show that to them. Hopefully we can inspire new voices. We can show people what we’re capable of doing here on a relatively limited budget,” Peterson said. “Maybe this will be the beginning of a new show, when two people come and see this and realize they could do something similar or it inspires them to make their own things.”

Department of Paranormal Affairs will be showing on Apr. 27, with members of cast and crew in attendance. Tickets can be found on the CUFF website.

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