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Calgary International Film Festival adds new competition to 2023

Filmmakers taking part in the 2023 edition of the Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF) could be competing for $5,000—and unlike in years past, there are no longer any limitations on whether those filmmakers are emerging artists.

Although, they very well could be if their films are strong enough.

Emerging artists have a chance to compete for the new Air Canada Canadian Narrative Feature Award and the RBC Emerging Canadian Artist Award.

“If the newcomers are the ones that are really making the best movies of that particular year, they could take both prizes, potentially,” said Brian Owens, CIFF’s Artistic Director.

“But finally there’s a door open, where we get to continue supporting filmmakers after they got their first two films in the festival.”

Owens said that it was something that CIFF had wanted to do for some time and that the renewed economic recovery of the airline industry made finding the right sponsor possible.

“The door was open for an airline to come and support, and that’s where we had started being having those early conversations with Air Canada, and they were big on supporting Canadian talent as well,” he said.

That support, said Owens, would continue through the festival’s other two prizes for narrative features and documentary films.

The RBC Emerging Canadian Artist Award is a $10,000 prize for narrative filmmakers presenting their first or second films, while the DGC Canadian Documentary Feature Award is a $5,000 prize for documentary filmmakers presenting their first or second films.

All of the prizes are meant to support the growth of Canadian filmmakers, and the film industry in Calgary, and Canada.

“When you’re in the first one or two movies, anything that you can get to help foster your career, both monetarily and the recognition, is going to be highly beneficial,” said Owens.

“The [RBC Emerging Canadian Artist Award] is one of the more sought-after prizes that we have. And the Canadian talent submitting also continues to grow.”

Brenda Lieberman, CIFF’s Lead Programmer, praised the selection of narrative films competing in the fall.

“I’m always such a big fan of the Canadian Narrative films and being able to support our Canadian directors and sharing their stories with our audience,” she said.

“This year’s films have some of the most exciting titles that are filled with fun, quirky and vibrant characters, unique coming of age stories, rom-coms, as well as some titles falling into thriller, horror and crime.”

Owens said that programming the narrative features selection can be a challenge and that sometimes it can feel like for homegrown films for audiences, that they’ve already seen it all.

“When you look at the lineup this year, you definitely haven’t seen it all,” he said.

“I really think people are going to enjoy the Canadian lineup and I think they really should be supporting Canadian artists.”

Canadian narrative features competing at CIFF 2023

ASOGSeán DevlinASOG follows Rey, a 40-year-old non-binary teacher and typhoon survivor, on a road trip to fame.
FITTING INMolly McGlynnFollows a teen’s journey post-diagnosis, as she navigates uncharted waters, redefining relationships and exploring unique solutions in the face of unexpected challenges.
FLOATSherren LeeA city girl rejected by her parents makes an impulsive decision to spend the summer at a small beach town with her estranged aunt.
HUMANIST VAMPIRE SEEKING CONSENTING SUICIDAL PERSONAriane Louis-SeizeSasha, an empathetic vampire, partners with suicidal teen Paul to fulfill his wishes before dawn, forging an unexpected bond in their race against time.
I DON’T KNOW WHO YOU AREM. H. MurrayStruggling against time and financial constraints, a gay musician races to secure life- saving HIV medication after assault, finding love and defying HIV-related stigmas in the process.
I USED TO BE FUNNYAlly PankiwSam, a stand-up comedian struggling with PTSD, weighs whether or not to join the search for a missing teenage girl she used to nanny.
IN FLAMESZarrar KahnWhen the family patriarch dies, a mother and daughter’s precarious existence meets a haunting past. They must find shared strength to survive the malevolent forces that threaten to engulf them.
MY ANIMALJacqueline CastelA small-town teenage goalie falls for the newcomer, an alluring but tormented figure skater. As their relationship deepens, her darkest secrets force her to control the animal within.
THE QUEEN OF MY DREAMSFawzia MirzaConnected through a shared love of Bollywood, a distant mother and daughter come of age in two different eras.
RED ROOMSPascal PlanteA woman obsessed with a serial killer on trial goes down a dark path to seek the missing video of a murdered 13-year-old girl.
RICHELIEUPier-Philippe ChevignyNewly recruited as a French-to-Spanish translator in a factory that employs temporary labourers from Guatemala, a young woman takes a stand to defend the migrant workers from abuse.
SOLOSophie DupuisSimon must deal with the disappointment of two impossible loves: a passionate but destructive crush on Olivier and a distant and cold relationship with his mother.
SUZELinsey StewartWhen her only daughter goes off to university, an empty nest mother gets stuck taking care of her daughter’s heartbroken ex-boyfriend, who she can’t stand.
WILD GOAT SURFCaitlyn SponheimerIn a rundown Okanagan RV park during the summer of 2003, Goat, a surfing-obsessed, twelve-year-old skater girl, navigates the unbridled, unstructured summer days of youth, dreaming about becoming a surfer.

Documentary lineup strong for 2023

Owens said that the festival is working very hard this year to give audiences multiple opportunities to see the documentaries, some of which are receiving their world premieres at the festival.

“We want to make sure that like we’re separating first and second screenings. So everything, with a couple of exceptions, is going to have two shows,” he said.

The exceptions are the small number of films that are being shown first at the Edmonton International Film Festival because their filmmakers have a connection to that city, Owens said.

“We definitely do a lot of coordinating because these Canadian filmmakers especially want to be at all of these festivals as much as possible,” he said.

“Most of time, it’s worrying less about premiere status, than making sure that the filmmaker can be at all of those places to support their films. So we’ll coordinate travel, split travel costs. I think it’s really important that we work together with our fellow Canadian film festivals so that everyone in each city has the best experience they can have.”

He said that this year people are really going to enjoy the lineup of documentary films competing, with some stories that have really relevant local interest.

“Before the Sun: this is a real inspiring documentary that was shot right here in Alberta, about the young Siksika woman who became the first woman to ride in the Indian relay races at the Stampede,” Owens said.

“It’s a really inspiring documentary.”

DGC Canadian documentary competition films at CIFF 2023

AITAMAAKO’TAMISSKAPI NATOSI: BEFORE THE SUNBanchi HanuseA portrait of a young Siksika woman as she prepares for one of the most dangerous horse races in the world.
COVER YOUR EARSSean Patrick ShaulA fascinating – and wildly entertaining – dissection of the history of music censorship.
CYNARASherien BarsoumThe Canadian justice system is put on trial as a defense team and an investigative journalist challenge the murder conviction of a mother accused of killing her disabled daughter.
I LOST MY MOMDenys DesjardinsIn the form of a filmed diary, director Denys Desjardins documents the extraordinary sequence of events that drove his mother into a long-term care home.
I’M JUST HERE FOR THE RIOTKathleen Jayme and Asia YoungmanWhen violence erupted after the Vancouver Canucks Game 7 2011 Stanley Cup loss, it enraptured the world—partially because it appeared so un-Canadian—but mostly because it was the first “smartphone riot”.
MR. DRESS UP: THE MAGIC OF MAKE BELIEVERobert McCallumA heartfelt celebration of the life and work of Ernie Coombs, the iconic Canadian children’s television personality who encouraged generations of kids to be their best selves.
SUBTERRANEAN,Francois-Xavier De RuydtsOver the course of one remarkable year, two gritty teams of hobbyist cavers are poised to break records for the longest and deepest caves in Canada.
SUMMER QAMPJennifer MarkowitzEvery summer at Camp fYrefly—in the heart of southern Alberta—queer, non-binary, and trans teens get the chance to be their whole selves in a caring and supportive environment.
SWAN SONGChelsea McMullanChelsea McMullan takes us inside the National Ballet of Canada’s 2022 production of Swan Lake, directed and staged by the legendary Karen Kain.
UNSYNCABLEMegan WennbergUNSYNCABLE is a testament to perseverance, the resilience of the human spirit and our endless capacity for growth at any age.
WE WILL BE BRAVEChrisann HessingIn Toronto, a group of racialized men known as “The Good Guise” are on a mission to dismantle toxic masculinity, using art to create radically-loving alternatives to shame and punishment.

First look options changing for prize winners

Last year’s RBC prize included a right-of-first-refusal deal for American distribution with Gravitas Ventures, something that Owens said was not included this year, officially.

“We are still working with some partners that will still have access to the films for possible US distribution. So the official channels are not the same, but the unofficial channels are still there,” he said.

The CIFF team would still be working hard with filmmakers to support them in making deals at the festival this year. Several US distributors are planning on attending, Owens said.

Although there isn’t an official distribution deal as part of the awards, just having a winning film makes a big difference to distributors and audiences.

“Winning an award is what you can take to distributors if you didn’t already have distributor backing,” Owens said.

“We’ve even seen it in the past that awards from ourselves or from other Canadian festivals can also be the door to break down get US distribution.”

He said that the awards perk the interest of audiences as well, putting more pressure on festivals to show the films and for distributors to get those films in front of audiences. Next year (2024), however, would be a big year for deal-making, according to Owens.

“We’re already in talks about having a large number of independent distributors from across the US and Canada at the festival next year as part of its 25th anniversary,” he said.

CIFF runs from Sept. 21 through Oct. 1, 2023. Prize winners will be announced on Sept. 25.

For more information on all the films playing at the festival, see www.ciffcalgary.ca.