Posted on October 10, 2019

Last week the 20th anniversary of the Calgary International Film Festival wrapped up, securing a full two-decade legacy of bringing the world’s best and most innovative films to our city. We’ve had a few days to let the snow settle, and now we’re ready to look back on the highlights of this year’s festival, and what’s coming up next for Calgary Film in the coming months.

First off, mark your calendars: next year’s festival spans September 23rd to October 4th. To quench your film-hungry hearts until then, we’ve got our ongoing Doc Soup series that kicks off on November 6th with THE CAVE, a gripping look at a woman saving lives in post-apocalyptic Syria. Doc Soup is a monthly series taking place on the second Wednesday of every month.

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To open the 20th Calgary International Film Festival on September 18th we once again packed the Jack Singer Concert Hall for our Opening Gala evening with the film THE SONG OF NAMES. Featuring live music, our first VIP attendees hitting the red carpet and a surprise last minute addition of a post-film Q&A by the films’ director François Girard, we can safely say it was fantastic start to the festival.

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In the next couple of days, we once again took up residence at both the Globe Cinema and Eau Claire, covering all eight screens at the two locations. Members of the local film industry and directors, producers, cinematographers, writers and many more flew in from all over Canada and the world to check out the festival. On September 19th we kicked off our 20th anniversary Retrospective Series with WAYDOWNTOWN, the very first film to ever play at the festival, almost 20 years to the day of its original debut. Local director Gary Burns, Actor Don McKellar, Producer George Baptiste, writer Donna Brunsdale and Cinematographer Patrick McLaughlin were in attendance to mark the event and the audience packed the theatre to see this vintage Calgarian film where the drama revolves around our +14 system and office workers who make a bet of who can use them to stay indoors the longest.

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By Friday the 20th, we were fully in the swing of things as the weekend hit and people turned up in droves to catch a film or two over the weekend. Macedonia’s Sundance winning film HONEYLAND, about Europe’s last female bee-hunter became a surprise success, selling out and spawning an extra encore due to demand. On Saturday, we saw the first appearance of the Ghostbusters crew with the kick off of our Behind The Screen Series. Taking advantage of the fact that GHOSTBUSTERS 2020 was currently filming in town, we invited Director Jason Reitman to come give a talk at the festival, and not only was the event a huge hit judging by the number of excellent Ghostbusters apparel and costumes seen around Eau Claire, but Jason actually invited his father, legendary director Ivan Reitman to join him in giving the talk, to the delight of the audience. What with that and the festival’s smash-hit and eventual Fan Favourite winner, South-Korean class-drama PARASITE playing back-to back that Saturday night Eau Claire was the place to be.

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That Sunday evening our popular yearly collection of short films ALBERTA SPIRIT: ALBERTA MADE SHORTS had its first screening at the Globe, complete with a packed red carpet for this celebration of Alberta’s filmmaking talent. After the screening, the party migrated over the road to our festival partner Paper St., and we crowned the winners of our annual Jury Awards. The top prize, the RBC Emerging Artists Award went to Director Heather Young for MURMUR and the Best Albertan Short Film Award went to Levi Holwell for A WALK DOWN TO WATER. The DGC Best Canadian Documentary Award was given to TOXIC BEAUTY and Trevor Anderson’s DOCKING won Best Live Action or Animated Short Film and became qualified to be submitted for consideration to the Academy Awards.

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As the second week hit, we kicked off the second year of our highly-successful Generation Next Series. For this series we worked with youth ambassadors year-round to hand-pick films relevant to their generation, and we then work with schools to bring those messages to their peers. This year almost 2000 children from schools across Calgary and surrounding areas participated in the program, and documentaries like 2040, a look to the future about what can be done to solve climate change using the tools we already have and STANDING ON THE LINE, looking at the experiences of LGBTQ athletes and challenges they still face across Canada got much needed conversations going.

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That week also saw the return of our extremely sought-after Bleeding Arts Industry SPFX Shop Tour as part of our Behind The Screen Series. Those who managed to snap up these coveted tickets got a look and what goes into making the special effects seen on screen. Other Behind The Screen events this year included a discussion of Women In Film, Micro-Budget Filmmaking and Capturing Music On Screen.

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For our 20th anniversary year, we introduced two special Retrospective Series. Before the festival we asked the public to vote for their favourite films of the last twenty years of the festival, and we selected the top five to return to the festival once more for a special screening. We also partnered up with the Calgary Central Library to bring the public five free screenings of some of the best Made In Alberta films of the last twenty years.

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On Wednesday the 25th we hosted our first ever Centrepiece Gala at Studio Bell - National Music Centre to celebrate the start of our Music On Screen Series with a film hot off of TIFF’s Opening Gala evening: ONCE WERE BROTHERS: ROBBIE ROBERTSON AND THE BAND. Guests had the opportunity to have a bite to eat while wandering around some of the exhibits after-hours of this appropriately musically inclined environment, before settling in for a screening of the film which went on to receive a standing ovation. Another standing ovation-receiver of the Music On Screen Series was AFTER SO MANY DAYS, a film about married musical duo Jim & Sam who played one show a day for a year. We were lucky enough to be joined by Jim Hanft and Samantha Yonack during the festival and they even played a show for the people standing in line for films at Eau Claire!

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Although we started the festival with beautiful summer weather, by the last weekend of the festival the city had been hit with another Snowtember. Calgarians were’t quite ready to hibernate though, what with some of the the festival’s stand-out films playing still to come. ASSHOLES: A THEORY, an examination of a hazardously escalating cultural behaviour had people buzzing (and maybe pointing a few fingers) and Jeff Murphy, scriptwriter for DENMARK led a fantastic and entertaining Q&A. We were very proudly joined by the family of Colten Boushie along with filmmaker Tasha Hubbard for the Alberta premiere of nîpawistamâsowin: WE WILL STAND UP.

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This year we chose two films for our Closing Gala, one for each screen at the Globe, followed by a Block Party on the closed-to-traffic 8th Avenue and participating venues along the street. Atom Egoyan, director of Closing Gala pick GUEST OF HONOUR along with actress Arsinée Khanjian graced our newly-white carpet and our second Closing Gala pick, DOLEMITE IS MY NAME starring Eddie Murphy alongside an all-star cast provided another perfect opportunity for costumes. The weather may have literally dampened our hopes for the outdoor event, but people showed up in droves for the films, and the party went on until the early hours of the morning at Paper St.

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The last day of the festival dawned bright and white, and we’d saved some of the best for last with PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE, LINDA RONSTADT: THE SOUND OF MY VOICE and knock-out hilarious GREENER GRASS getting rave reviews from film-goers. On Sunday we declared the winner of our Fan Of The Year, and Bruce Hollingsworth won by a landslide after seeing 50(!) films in 11 days. 

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We had another surprise visit from many of the cast and crew of GHOSTBUSTERS 2020 at the very last film of the festival, TROOP ZERO. The film stars the young actress McKenna Grace, who was in town shooting for GHOSTBUSTERS 2020 and kindly finished off the festival with a Q&A. We called a wrap on the festival as snow continued to fall and the young stars of GHOSTBUSTERS 2020 had a snow ball fight outside.

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It is absolutely necessary to say a HUGE THANK YOU to all of the fans, filmmakers, friends, and family members who came out to see a movie, to meet an inspiring person, to learn more about the film industry, or to get involved with the festival. We wish we had the space to list all of you by name! An additional HUGE THANK YOU is crucial for the over 300 volunteers without whose time, energy and enthusiasm this festival would not be possible.

If you still can't get enough of CIFF, be sure to check out our first documentary of the Doc Soup series, THE CAVE, on November 6th. Doc Soup is a monthly event, taking place on the first Wednesday of each month that brings some of the world's trending documentaries to Calgary screens. In addition, (and you’re hearing this right here first) this year Doc Soup won’t be our only monthly series. Keep your eyes on our social media and if you haven’t already, subscribe to our newsletter because a brand new monthly series in addition to Doc Soup is on the way very soon.

We can't wait to see what next year brings for us as we enter our third decade of bringing the best of film to Calgary screens. We'll see you at the 21st Calgary International Film Festival in 2020!

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