Alberta stars of 2023: These local artists had a very good year

Article content

An Oscar-nominated Calgary duo, a trans artist contributing to real change in health care and an expat producer who made a bold, Oscar-winning film about Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny are among the Calgary artists and expats who helped put the province on the map.

Some of these artists have long since left Calgary, some have never left. But all 10 put their mark on the culture of the city, province or world at large.

Advertisement 2

Article content

Article content

Guy Bews
Actor Nick Offerman, left, and stunt double Guy Bews on the set of The Last of Us. Bews was also the stunt co-ordinator for the series. Photo by Guy Bews

Who: Alberta stunt performers

What: Stunt performers on The Last Of Us

The biggest Alberta entertainment story of 2023 was the release of HBO’s The Last of Us, which managed to surpass the sky-high expectations for the big-budgeted spectacle with a massive audience, critical acclaim and two dozen Emmy nominations. The production spent a year in Alberta, using practically every vista the province had to offer. It also featured a number of talented locals behind the scenes. But given the explosively violent action sequences, it’s hardly surprising that our local stunt performers were a highly visible component of the show. There were too many to name, but the production featured Ablerta’s multi-generational, overlapping stars of both the stunt and rodeo worlds, including members of the  Bews, Woosley and Glass families.

Victoria Banner
Calgary stand-up comedian and host Victoria Banner. Photo by Vuk Vukovic jpg

Who: Victoria Banner

What: Comedian

A 10-year veteran of the comedy stage, Calgarian Victoria Banner released her debut comedy album I Hate Standup in October. The album presents Banner as a live-wire, near-manic presence on stage who isn’t afraid to riff on subjects such as her mental issues, death and family dysfunction. She is edgy but never punches down. On top of that, Banner has been co-curating The Laugh Loft at The Attic on Sundays, giving space to a new generation of female and queer comedians.

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

Wendy Tilby, Amanda Forbis.
Filmmakers Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis. They will receive a Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Arts Award. jpg

Who: Amanda Forbis, Wendy Tilby

What: Filmmakers/animators

The talented filmmaking duo has made this list before, but 2023 proved to be another stellar year for the animators. In January, they were in Park City, Utah, screening their acclaimed animated film The Flying Sailor when they heard the news that they had received an Oscar nomination for their film, a short about a British soldier being blown into the sky during the 1917 Halifax Explosion. It was the pair’s third Oscar nomination following 1999’s When the Day Breaks and 2012’s Wild Life. Tilby had previously been nominated for her 1991 solo effort Strings as well. Alas, they did not win this year. But The Flying Sailor has racked up nine wins at festivals around the world. In September, Forbis and Tilby were named 2023 Distinguished Artists by the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Arts Awards Foundation.

Caity Gyorgy
Juno nominated jazz singer and composer Caity Gyorgy. Photo by Cynthia Fay. jpg

Who: Caity Gyorgy

What: jazz singer

Jazz tends to be a genre where the creme-de-la-creme can sustain careers for decades and well into their twilight years. So the future looks very bright for Calgary expat Caity Gyorgy, who has already won two Juno Awards at the tender age of 24. In 2022, she took home the trophy for Best Vocal Jazz Album for her EP Now Pronouncing: Caity Gyrogy. In 2023, she did it again for her full-length album Featuring, a selection of standards and like-minded originals the singer performed with many of her jazz mentors.

Advertisement 4

Article content

The Maiden with local actors Jackson Sluiter and Hayley Ness
Jackson Sluiter and Hayley Ness in Graham Foy’s The Maiden. jpg

Who: Graham Foy, Marcel T. Jimenez, Hayley Ness, Jackson Sluiter

What: filmmaker, actors

In his meditative Calgary-shot, coming-of-age drama The Maiden, expat filmmaker Graham Foy showcased the importance of good casting by coaxing remarkable performances from his three newbie stars. Foy found Marcel T. Jimenez, Hayley Ness and Jackson Sluiter not by contacting agents but by searching Calgary’s skateboarding scene and high schools in Calgary and Cochrane. Much of the dialogue in this haunting, beautiful film was improvised, and all three actors were perfect in their roles despite their inexperience. It may be short-lived – by the time The Maiden hit theatres in 2023, all three seemed to have returned to their normal lives – but for a short period the young actors enjoyed new life of international movie premieres and red carpets.

Vincent Ho
Calgary composer Vincent Ho. Photo by Harder Lee Photography jpg

Who: Vincent Ho

What: classical composer

Vincent Ho is also making a repeat appearance on this list. But the Calgary composer continues to make bold music that looks to expand the classical-music fan base. In 2023, he received his fifth Juno nomination for Supervillain Etudes, a multi-layered project that mixed virtuoso etudes, dark psychology and the supervillains of Gotham City. Working with his socio-psychologist wife Tracy Eng, he created psychological profiles of The Joker, Riddler, the Penguin, Two-Face, Catwoman and Poison Ivy, had three choreographers create and film physical movements based on the profiles, translated the footage into six etudes and had recorded them with avant-garde classical pianist Vicky Chow.

Advertisement 5

Article content

Finn Lee-Epp
Calgary’s Finn Lee-Epp voices the role of Ryder in PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie. Photo by Phil Crozier. jpg

Who: Finn Lee-Epp

What: actor/voice actor

Fourteen-year-old Calgarian Finn Lee-Epp may never have been in the same room as his famous co-stars, but it is still a feather in his cap that he had a starring role in the hit animated film PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie alongside Kristen Bell, James Marsden, Mckenna Grace, Chris Rock, Taraji P. Henson and Kim Kardashian. He provided the voice for Ryder, the 10-year-old human leader of the PAW Patrol, a group of pups bestowed magic powers from a meteor. Finn was a relative newcomer, having only a small role in the 2020 Alberta-shot Kevin Costner thriller Let Him Go under his belt when he landed this dream role.

Odessa Rae
Odessa Rae prepping for her first meeting with Alexei Navalny for her documentary Navalny. Photo by Odessa Rae jpg

Who: Odessa Rae

What: documentary producer

At the end of 2020, Calgary expat and former actress Odessa Rae and director Daniel Roher spent time at a secret location in Germany’s Black Forest interviewing Alexei Navalny, the Russian dissident and vocal critic of Vladimir Putin, for their Oscar-winning documentary Navalny. It was there that they managed to capture a remarkable piece of footage: Nalvany getting a Russian agent to confess to poisoning him while posing as a Russian official on the phone. The film received rave reviews and picked up both an Oscar and a BAFTA award.

Advertisement 6

Article content

Rae Spoon
Canadian musician and writer Rae Spoon was photographed with the backdrop of murals at containR Park in Calgary in 2023. Photo by Gavin Young /Postmedia

Who: Rae Spoon

What: singer-songwriter, activist

Rae Spoon’s incredible music career has been chronicled in this pages for quite some time, but 2023 may have marked an artistic high-point for the Calgary-born, non-binary artist. After being diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2020, Spoon began advocating for a medical system that better fits the needs of gender-variant patients. Remarkably, they did this while dealing with painful treatments. In August, they released Not Dead Yet, an autobiographical album that chronicles Spoon’s experiences dealing with their own mortality and a health-care system that seemed ill-equipped to meet their needs. The eight songs are simultaneously haunting, joyful, and catchy. One of the best albums of the year is made all the more powerful by the conversation it will likely provoke.

Sioghan Williams
Calgary-raised actress Siobhan Williams on the set of the video game The Quarry. Courtesy, Siobhan Williams. Photo by Calgary-raised Siobhan Williams /jpg

Who: Siobhan Williams

What: actor

With HBO’s Alberta-shot series based on the popular video game The Last of Us becoming all the rage, it is probably a good time for actors to take the video game world seriously. Calgary expat Siobhan Williams was arguably ahead of the curve. She was obsessed with interactive horror video games in 2016 and began auditioning for video games shortly afterwards. She spent nearly three years working on The Quarry, using motion-capture performance to play Laura as part of an ensemble cast that included Lance Henriksen, Ted Raimi, Linda Shaye, Ariel Winter, Brenda Song, Skyler Gisondo and David Arquette. She earned a BAFTA nomination for her role.

Article content