From coming of age, to horror, to post-apocalyptic, and even to world premieres: this year’s selection of Alberta made films at the Calgary International Film Festival will have something for every genre fan.
CIFF, which runs from September 22 to October 2, will include an Alberta Spotlight section punctuated by narrative and documentary features in addition to Alberta Spirit short films.
The five films in Alberta Spotlight, and 11 shorts in the Alberta Spirit section will be played throughout the festival.
“CIFF supports Alberta made films because that’s really how you build a culture—beyond a culture, eventually an industry,” said Brian Owens, CIFF Artistic Director.
CIFF received the highest submission of Alberta films in its history, said Owens. With between 150 to 200 Alberta made films spanning both features and shorts.
“Narrowing down the Alberta films is always the hardest because they’re personal to us,” said said Brenda Lieberman, CIFF Lead Programmer.
“We get to know the cast, the crew, the filmmakers and we can see the depth of their stories locally,” she said.
Feature Films cover multiple genres
CIFF alumnus Trevor Anderson’s Before I Change My Mind, is a coming of age story that explores gender fluidity and the sense of belonging. Shot in and around Edmonton the film will feature Vaughan Murrae and Matthew Rankin it first premiered at Switzerland’s Locarno Film Festival.
Calgary Métis director Berkeley Brady’s inaugural film, Dark Nature, is a survival horror film about a women’s therapy group on an isolated retreat in the Rockies.
The soundtrack was written by Ghostkeeper, a Calgary rock band.
The film explores emotional resilience, the ability to survive, and the effect trauma has on a person’s friendships.
“Dark Nature is about nature in all its forms. There’s the dark nature of humanity… and the nature we shot in outside of Calgary, ” said Brady.
One of the ideas she is trying to share is that one could be in a beautiful but simultaneously dangerous place.
“You could be on a healing journey and working on your issues. But that doesn’t mean that trauma isn’t going to continue happening,” said Brady.
“I love Calgary. I love Alberta. This is my home and the stories I want to tell are set here. For me, it’s really important we have the opportunity to share these stories with local people,” she said.
Another first feature is Father of Nation, by Alicia Anderson. The post-apocalyptic film was shot in Southern Alberta’s badlands with an all-Alberta cast and crew. The plot has the world on the verge of extinction, with the remaining survivors searching for life while confronting their mortality and purpose.
Documentaries address hidden side of Alberta
Francheska: Prairie Queen follows the story of Francis Yutrago, a Filipino frontline caregiver based in Sterling, Alberta. Yutrago also performs in drag beauty pageants under the name Francheska Dynamites to support his family in the Philippines.
“[Yutrago] wears a mask at work all day and takes care of senior citizens in a care home. Not a lot of people ask him anything else about his life within that work environment,” said Laura O’Grady, director for Francheska: Prairie Queen.
“Just like every other human being, [Yutrago] is a complex, wonderful, nuanced, ambitious queen,” she said.
The documentary was shot during the pandemic in Calgary, Lethbridge, and Sterling.
“It’s important that we own our own narrative and share the stories that are not … stereotypical Alberta,” said O’Grady.
“I really hope that people are inspired by his story, how hard he works to achieve his dreams, how hard he works to support his community here and in the Philippines,” she said.
Insanity, directed by Wendy Hill-Trout, contains a personal story of Hill-Trout’s brother who struggled with mental illness that eventually contributed to his disappearance. The documentary is a societal call to action to treat those suffering with metal illnesses more humanely.
Alberta Spirit shorts cover variety of indigenous topics
The Alberta Spirit narratives category highlights short Alberta made films.
With a predominantly Calgary crew, Asim Overstands’ and Alim Sabir’s short Cold Tea explores vibrant young love, break-ups, and closure.
Overstands’ film Mean Hakeem was last years winner of CIFF’s Telus Audience Choice Award.
Piita Aapasskaan, directed by Brock Davis Mitchell, is a documentary short on Kyle Young Pine—a Blackfoot man, who finds confluence in his passions for skateboarding and fancy feather dancing.
Not That Deep, directed by CIFF newcomer Misha Maseka, follows the degenerating romance of a young couple, juxtaposed with vibrant shots of interpretative dance.
Savj, directed by Tank Standing Buffalo and narrated by Corey Feldman, is an autobiographical story of his experience with child protective services taking away indigenous children. Standing Buffalo’s award winning autobiographical animated short RKLSS played previously at CIFF and premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2020.
“When we get to be the first audience to screen a film… the energy in the room is always real different,” said Lieberman.
“We don’t have cast and crew screenings typically for the Alberta films, so it’s also a nice time for those who worked on it to come out and celebrate with everybody,” she said.
Full details of all of the Alberta made films is available on CIFF’s website at ciffcalgary.ca.