Emotional, gory, goofy, fun: Calgary Underground Film Festival's 21st lineup a celebration of cinematically weird

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When asked what films best represent the polar extremes of programming at this year’s Calgary Underground Film Festival, co-founder and head-programmer Brenda Lieberman points to Ghostlight, Alex Thompson
and Kelly O’Sullivan’s tender American dramedy about family, grief and community theatre, and Canadian director Chris Nash’s slow-burning, visceral horror-slasher film In A Violent Nature.

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A still from the film Ghostlight, which is part of the Calgary Underground Film Festival. Courtesy, Calgary Underground Film Festival. Photo by Courtesy of Luke Dyra. An IFC Fi /cal

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Presumably, Lieberman saw them at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in Utah, where both received significant buzz.

“In terms of emotion, it was Ghostlight,” says Lieberman. “I pretty much cried for that whole movie, it’s so emotionally heavy. It’s so good and it really brings you into this family and this world. I struggled having to watch anything after that one that day at Sundance.”

In A Violent Nature, while also getting good reviews, is a very different film, a clever POV-shift on the cabin-in-the-woods horror flick that does not hold back on the gore.

“It’s really graphic horror,” Lieberman says. “But it’s a really quiet, slow-paced slasher film that is done in a really different and unique way.”

The festival announced the lineup for its 21st edition on Wednesday. introducing dozens of titles that cover wildly different themes, genres and subgenres in dark, quirky, provocative or just plain goofy ways. The festival, which will screen selections at the Globe Cinema from April 18 to 28, will also feature several special events. That includes the return of Baltimore cult filmmaker John Waters, who will offer his spoken-word show Devil’s Advocate on April 24 at the Globe and then introduce his 1994 film Serial Mom starring Kathleen Turner. Waters last attended CUFF in 2012.

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“We noticed he was on tour before so we thought this was the perfect way to bring him back,” says Lieberman. “It’s a whole new show we haven’t shown before and tying it into the festival was the perfect way to fit him back into our programming and it seemed it was a nice fit with the 30th anniversary of Serial Mom.”

A still from the film Mother Father Sister Brother Frank, which will be part of the Calgary Underground Film Festival. Courtesy, Calgary Underground Film Festival. cal

On April 17, one day before the festival officially opens, CUFF will celebrate National Canadian Film Day with a screening of Jim Makichuk’s 1981 thriller Ghostkeeper. The film was shot in Lake Louise and Banff and was the only Alberta title filmed under the Canadian tax shelter program of the 1980s, which also allowed films such as Louis Malle’s Atlantic City with Burt Lancaster, Daryl Duke’s The Silent Partner with Elliott Gould, Ivan Reitman’s Meatballs with Bill Murray, Peter Medak’s The Changeling with George C. Scott and Bob Clark’s Porky’s.

The festival will open April 18 with the Canadian premiere of Jane Schoenbrun’s I Saw the TV Glow, which was also a provocative hit at Sundance. Schoenbrun is a non-binary filmmaker whose previous movie, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, was an acclaimed coming-of-age horror film. I Saw the TV Glow is also a psychological horror film that centres on two teens obsessed with a television show.

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John Waters
Filmmaker John Waters will appear at the Calgary Underground Film Festival. Courtesy, Calgary Underground Film Festival. cal

“It really speaks to today’s culture of youth and fandom and what is going on with media and the world of television,” says Lieberman. “We wanted something that was highly anticipated but also speaks to some of the niche programming we’re doing at the festival.”

While CUFF holds a separate festival each year in November for documentary films, this lineup includes some non-fiction films, including the Canadian premiere of Andrew Reich’s Born Innocent: The Redd Kross Story about the seminal punk-college rock band from California that formed in 1978 when the members were still pre-teens; John Edward Makens’s  Art & Life: The Story of Jim Phillips, about the pioneering skateboard-punk artist; John MacLaverty’s self-explanatory Loch Ness: They Created a Monster; Alex Braverman’s Thank You Very Much, which is about comedian/performance artist Andy Kaufman, and Eric Weinrib and Nate Pommer’s Scream of My Blood: A Gogol Bordello story, about Ukrainian band leader Eugene Hütz’s career.

Other films include Francis Gallupi’s The Last Stop in Yuma Country, a Tarantino-esque neo-western heist thriller. Gallupi and star Jim Cummings are expected to attend the festival.

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The Last Stop in Yuma County
A still from the film The Last Stop in Yuma County which is part of the Calgary Underground Film Festival. Courtesy, Calgary Underground Film Festival. cal

“It’s such a crowd-pleasing film,” Lieberman says. “It has a humour that all of us fell in love with.”

There will be a two-film retrospective of Canadian filmmaker Vincenzo Natali, including 1997’s trippy sci-fi/horror cult classic Cube and his 2003 surreal comedy Nothing. Andrew Miller and David Hewlett, who starred in both, will be attending.

Calgary expat Caden Douglas will also be on hand to introduce the Canadian premiere of Mother Father Sister Brother Frank, a dark-comedy horror flick about a dysfunctional family starring the Fact of Life’s Mindy Cohn of all people. Douglas was born and raised in Calgary but currently lives in Los Angeles.

Humane is the dystopian thriller debut from second-generation filmmaker Caitlin Cronenberg, daughter of icon David Cronenberg, and stars Jay Baruchel, Emily Hampshire, Enrico Colantoni and Peter Gallagher.

Redd Kross
A still from the film Born Innocent: The Redd Kross Story, which is part of the Calgary Underground Film Festival. Courtesy, Calgary Underground Film Festival. cal

“At the end of the day, we’re showing films that are creative and very audience-driven,” Lieberman says. “Films that we feel are better experienced in the cinematic environment with everybody. While some of them might be released shortly afterward, it’s the idea that we’re curating content that they wouldn’t necessarily be familiar with otherwise or know where to find and be able to experience it together.”

The Calgary Underground Film Festival runs from April 18 to 28 at the Globe Cinema. Visit calgaryundergroundfilm.org for a full lineup and showtimes.

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