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Highlights from CUFF 2024 

By Nimra Amir, Leonie O’Sullivan, Ansharah Shakil, May 3 2024—

This year’s rendition of the Calgary Underground Film Festival (CUFF) was jam-packed with films to see over the course of its ten-day schedule. With films of every genre, from opening night film I Saw The TV Glow to closing film Thelma, CUFF balanced its appreciation of our local art scene with underground films and international premieres. It hosted more than just feature films — there were shorts packages with varying themes, panels and an indie game fighting tournament. That’s not to mention the all-new program of their Saturday Morning All-You-Can-Eat-Cereal Cartoon Party. 

Standouts from this year’s festival include Ghostlight, in which a construction worker joins a theatre production of Romeo and Juliet and finds the film mirroring his life, and the Canadian premiere of Cuckoo, the German suspenseful film starring Hunter Schafer. The Alberta premiere of Lucy Lawless’s Never Look Away, which depicts the reporting of CNN combat camerawoman Margaret Moth, is another fascinating documentary that was shown at CUFF. 

Another film to look out for is Loch Ness: They Created a Monster. The Loch Ness Monster, affectionately known as Nessie, contributes 50 million pounds annually to the Scottish economy. In 1975, Nessie hunters went as far as to name the mythical creature Nessiteras rhombopteryx in the prestigious scientific journal Nature, as a proper scientific name is required for endangered species protection measures. Nessie was given the name to be “safe [rather] than sorry.”

The documentary Loch Ness: They Created A Monster, directed by John MacLaverty, delves into the frenzy surrounding Loch Ness in the 1970s in the quest to find the monster. The endeavour was compared to the space race, and Nessie herself was dubbed the “tenth wonder of the world.” Rather than ever finding tangible evidence of Nessie, the race revealed the monster that is human nature, encompassing ego and greed. The rivalry between the monster hunters resulted in Molotov cocktails, a missing man and a caravan at the bottom of the lake. 

The race lured monster hunters from countries worldwide, including the United States, Belgium and Japan, all vying to be the first to capture evidence of the elusive beast. However, the most perilous “monster” they encountered was a fellow monster hunter by the name of Frank Searle. Searle became all-consumed in the search and went to great lengths to capture what he claimed were the best shots of Nessie, which he sold to tourists and were later found to be as authentic as Nessie herself.

The narrative unfolds through archival video footage, transporting viewers back in time to the era of Nessie’s high pursuit. This footage is complemented by aerial footage of the vastly beautiful, never-ending lake. One of the standout features of the film is undoubtedly its captivating cinematography, capturing the lush green landscapes of Scotland and the powerfully immense Loch Ness.

CUFF recently showcased the North American premiere of Loch Ness: They Created A Monster from Apr. 24-27. If you missed the opportunity to catch it at CUFF, don’t be sorry, be safe and catch it at CUFF.Docs Documentary Film Festival this November. 

Another remarkable film shown at CUFF is horror-comedy The Last Video Store from Albertan-born filmmakers Cody Kennedy and Tim Rutherford, which screened at CUFF on Apr. 28. The nostalgic feature film transports audiences to Blaster Video — based on star Kevin Martin’s beloved cult video store The Lobby in Edmonton — where sole owner and employee Kevin (Kevin Martin) is faced with the cursed VHS tape imbued with the power to bring any movie character to reality.

Brought in by the daughter of his most loyal customer Nyla (Yaayaa Adams), the cursed VHS traps Kevin and Nyla in Blaster Video with a series of classic cinematic villains plucked from the depths of the B-movies glory that many film nerds hold dear to their heart like Castor, the legendary hockey goalie turned supernatural thriller killer from the Beaver Lake Massacre franchise, or Jackson Viper, the brooding detective with a penchant for melodrama.

As the meticulously constructed Blaster Video turns against Kevin and Nyla, they find the power of friendship is all they need to save the day.

The Last Video Store stands as a reverent tribute to the golden age of Canuxploitation, paying homage to the cinematic gems that once adorned the shelves of beloved establishments like Blaster Video and The Lobby. It has the essence of the cinema of that era familiar to most CUFF fans captured through the neon VHS character who wreaks havoc over the pounding synth score with loads of gore. 

To learn more about The Last Video Store and other films at CUFF, you can visit their website

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