It was a little bit of the glitz and glamour of Hollywood come to Calgary on Thursday, as the Calgary International Film Festival opened for it’s 11 days at Eau Claire.
The stars of the night were Calgary’s own Geoff McFetridge, who’s graphic art designs have become synonymous with both film (Her, 2013) and the world of fashion and art, and director Dan Covert who had spent four years creating a documentary of McFetridge’s life.
Steve Schroeder, Executive Director for CIFF, said that audiences getting to meet both McFetridge and Covert during the opening film screening of Geoff McFetridge: Drawing a Life, was the quintessential film festival experience that CIFF aims to deliver on.
“The movies are of course why our audience comes. We know that our audience loves the movies—whether they’re coming for one or 30—and added on to that is actually getting to meet in person, and hear from, and ask questions to in person to filmmakers,” he said.
“You don’t really get that anywhere outside of the context of a film festival.”
CIFF 2023 has been the culmination of nearly 365 days of work to bring Calgarians the best possible film festival experience. And as cliche as it sounds, said Schroeder, the team CIFF really has worked to create a festival that can entertain fans of every genre.
“It’s not always easy, and it’s a payoff when you see that crowds and audiences and people actually show up. And maybe we shouldn’t be surprised by that.”
“But every year, every single new person who comes is a gift to us. And and we’re so happy that people are just willing to dive into this festival and explore these amazing new visions by these wonderful filmmakers.”
Schroeder said the pitch for people who have never attended a film festival before is to not get caught up with needing to see every single film, or in stereotypes of what film festivals are about.
“There’s comedy, there’s drama, there are foreign films, there are Canadian films and American films. Sometimes we all have an idea in our heads that it’s all black and white movies with subtitles and weird things happening and it’s all surreal. There’s crazy movies like that in the festival, but there are also lighthearted comedies and thrillers and if you’d like to be scared, horror.”
“There’s something for everybody.”
The full lineup of CIFF 2023 films is available at www.ciffcalgary.ca.
A big deal to show to a hometown crowd
Bringing Geoff McFetridge: Drawing a Life to a Calgary audience was a big deal said Covert.
“It is a big deal to come back to his hometown and bring something here. We came and shot two years ago with his parents and around the area, so it’s great to come back and see it again and just bring this this film to the festival.”
The film, which is Covert’s first feature length documentary despite having produced over 100 shorts, was a daunting process he said. Getting to work with Spike Jones, as part of the filming process was the opposite.
“First of all, to have him as an interview subject in the film, because he knows Geoff so well, and very intimately both from a personal and work standpoint was phenomenal. And then this dream scenario where he signed on and was willing to contribute creatively to the film and almost act as a coach and kind of give me guidance along the way: it was invaluable.”
“To work on a film with Geoff is dream number one, and then to work on a film with Spike is like insane. It was like grad school almost in a sense where he got to push me to make the film better, hone it, and really refine it because we had a film that was pretty solid, but then he took it to another level.”
Covert’s film was nominated the 2023 SXSW Grand Jury Award, and won the SXSW audience award.
The biggest thing for audiences, he said, was the hope that audiences would come to understand McFetridge’s work in a deeper way, but also to take away the message that they can step back from their lives and find a little more autonomy in the way they live it.
McFetridge for his part, said that it was an honour to have a film made about his life and his work, and an additional honour to have it play in his home town.
His will be on display at Contemporary Calgary until October 29, and McFetridge be returning to speak to students at the Alberta University of the Arts, where he himself was a graduate from when the institution when it was known as ACAD.
“I’m oversharing definitely in three days. But I’ve wanted to talk at the school I graduated from… and having the film here, and showing it to my friends and family and the community here, it’s really it’s such an opportunity.”
He said that being the subject of a film was a strange one, but that he hoped it serves to inspire others.
“It’s strange. One of the beauties of being an artist is that you speak through what you make. You’re in your studio, and there’s this sort of quiet to it. I do interviews but this is like, it feels like things escalated.”
Last chance to see CIFF at Eau Claire
One of the bittersweet moments of CIFF opening on Sept. 21 at Eau Claire was the realization that it would also be the last time that CIFF would be at their long-time home.
Eau Claire Mall is set to be demolished to make way for Green Line construction.
“Am I thinking about Eau Claire being gone in a few months? Not at this moment, because I’m too in this moment,” said Schroeder.
“We knew the end of Eau Claire was coming well before it was announced by the city. And so we’ve been planning the next evolution of the film festival.”
And although, said Schroeder, the focus is on giving audiences the best possible experience right now for this iteration of the festival, big plans are underway for next year already.
“It’s going to include all the things people love about CIFF. It’s going to still include central locations. It’s still going to include 200 some odd films and all the filmmaker guests and all the festival energy—the wonder of that wonderful festival energy that people love.”
“We’re not announcing plans specific plans until the spring of 2024. But what I can say is it will it will it be a version of the festival that brings more partners and more people into it. We’re losing Eau Claire and Calgary’s losing its last downtown multiplex—those are an endangered species in North America, there aren’t that many of them left—but we have other ways of bringing people together downtown and elsewhere, celebrating cinema.”
Mayor Jyoti Gondek, who attended the opening night of the festival, said that there had been an incredible buzz building for this year’s festival.
“There’s just so much talent being showcased. We’ve got an alumni from AUarts… and we’ve got some important stories, like stories of queer kids at a camp where they can be themselves. And at this point in time in the history of the world, stories like that are more important than ever before.”
She said that the growth of the film industry in Alberta was helping to put those stories in front of audiences. That industry growth, she said, was becoming a well established part of the Calgary economic landscape.
“It’s absolutely critical to tell the authentic stories of who we are, and you don’t get a chance to do that if the industry doesn’t take you seriously.”
“The one thing I appreciate the film industry has embraced all that Alberta has to offer. They have allowed us to talk about the things that have been silent for so long, and we’re finally starting to reveal histories that had been buried and talk about people that are doing such incredible things in the world that often get overlooked.”