The Calgary International Film Festival — or Calgary Film for short — enters its second year as an Oscar-qualifying festival with record-breaking number of film submissions.
“It’s been growing a lot over the last several years,” said Executive Director Steve Schroeder in an interview Aug. 9. “Only five years ago [we received] 600 films” and this year that number is approaching nearly 3,000.
However, the festival will only be picking around 200 films to view at this year’s 12-day celebration, films that will be presented under the following categories: World, Canadian, New American, Music on Screen, Late Shows, Headliners, Documentaries, Shorts and Galas.
“We play approximately 200 films every year of every genre,” added Schroeder, “from over 40 countries.”
The festival , which runs from Sept. 20 to Oct. 1, will be handing out Audience Awards for Best Alberta Feature, Best Narrative Feature, Best Documentary Feature, Best Alberta Short, Best Narrative Short and Best Documentary Short. It will also be giving out a Fan Award for Best Feature and Jury Awards for Best Canadian Narrative Feature, Best Alberta Short, Best Overall Short and Best Documentary Short.
“It’s a huge job,” Schroeder stated of the responsibility that falls on festival organizers to sift through 3,000 submissions. “Because all the films that have been submitted have to be watched.”
“There’s only about 200 official selections between shorts and features so most of the films submitted are not going to be shown to the public. So like less than 10 per cent [will be shown].”
The festival started accepting submissions in December. All films were reviewed by 60 previewers along with six film programmers, narrowing down the submissions not based on any formal standards but the ability to “determine when a film is ‘innovative and compelling.’”
“Of course this leaves room for at least some degree of subjectivity and individual taste, but that’s one of the things that makes a film program unique and helps give it some personality,” explained Schroeder. “There are multiple people in the process who watch each submission, so if more than one person feels that a film is innovative and compelling, those are the ones that rise to the top.”
From there, the audience and a jury will be voting and deciding, respectively, which films will receive awards.
Other than the record-breaking number of submissions, what makes this year’s festival different from last year?
“One of the biggest goals of our festival is to celebrate local filmmaking talent. This year, the opportunities to do so were more abundant than ever,” said Schroeder in a press release. “Approximately 25 per cent of our programmed Canadian feature content is Albertan, representing seven per cent of our overall lineup. We want to showcase as much local content as possible.”
“It amazes me how many local productions there are for us to consider,” said Programming Manager Brenda Lieberman. “This year the genre diversity stands out, as well as the number of films not only by Albertans who live and work here, but also by those who have moved away, who still have solid roots in Calgary.
“We’re really proud of this year’s lineup.”
Suck It Up, a local production and a candidate for the Canadian Narrative Feature award, is one film to look forward, landing a coveted spot at the festival’s closing gala.
“We are extremely excited to be playing in Calgary,” said director Jordan Canning. “We loved shooting in Calgary. We loved our crew and it’s really important for us to bring it back to them and show it to them.
“It’s a huge honour.”
Erin Carter, one of the lead actresses in Suck it Up, a film that depicts two best friends’ journey of coping with the loss of the men they love, said she is “so excited.”
“I always thought of Calgary as home so I think coming home to have everybody see [the film] is just … really special.”
But one award is probably the most anticipated of all because it can lead to an Oscar.
The Best Overall Short, a juried award that will be selected among the animated and live action narrative shorts, can go on to qualify for an Academy Award nomination.
Since receiving Oscar-qualifying status in December 2015, no Best Overall Short winner has been nominated for an Oscar, but there’s always a first one.
Calgary Film, which had a record-breaking attendance last year of 36,700 people and maintained its spot in MovieMaker Magazine’s list of “50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee,” is planning to make its celebration bigger and better this fall. What better way to get the ball rolling than with the opening gala.
“Our opening gala is going to be the biggest one put on yet,” Schroeder said. “This year as part of our Canada 150 celebration, we are gearing up to make it the biggest opening celebration party for the gala that we’ve ever had.”
The opening gala at the Jack Singer Concert Hall on Sept. 20, “is part of the Movie Nights Across Canada 150 Celebrations, an event that is touring major cities across the country.”
On top of that, Calgary Film has expanded the number of screens they’ll be using during the festival, from nine in 2015 to 12 this year at their main venues: Jack Singer Concert Hall, Globe Cinema, Cineplex Eau Claire, Studio Bell/National Music Centre, The Palace Theatre and Theatre Junction Grand.
The Eau Claire Box Office opens Sept. 5. Single tickets are on sale online, including early bird festival passes and ticket packages at calgaryfilm.com.
- By Rosemary De Souza