Calgary Underground Film Festival

I Declare War, described by the CUFF website as a mix of Full Metal and Stand By Me, explores a group of kids being tempted by human nature's darker side as a game of capture the flag turns serious. The film plays on April 16 at 9:30 p.m.

I Declare War, described by the CUFF website as a mix of Full Metal Jacket and Stand By Me, explores a group of kids being tempted by human nature’s darker side as a game of capture the flag turns serious. The film plays on April 16 at 9:30 p.m.









Last night, I was fortunate enough to attend the premiere of Cafe Cafe by Calgary director Pat Downing. CUFF is going on until the end of the week. I strongly suggest going to one of the festival’s featured films. There’s a great selection. Next up for me is Frances Ha tomorrow night at 7:30. Cheers!

Though Calgary tends to not pop up on unsuspecting radars as a hotbed for underground film, legions of canny fans flock to art-house theatres in town each spring to catch another installation of the Calgary Underground Film Festival (CUFF). For those on the pulse of independent films, or willing to take a chance on something new, CUFF provides an entire week’s worth of gems across all genres, including horror, documentary, drama, comedy and cartoons. Led by festival director Brenda Lieberman, CUFF is entering its 10th years as the film festival that could and have their strongest lineup prepared to date. We sat down with Lieberman to talk about the festival’s history, the international indie film scene and the future for film in Calgary.

BeatRoute: How would you define CUFF?

Brenda Lieberman: Essentially, we look for international independent cinema that we feel pushes some boundaries, is edgy — maybe more subversive or provocative in terms of form or style or content — and we look to highlight genres, subcultures or niches that we feel audiences want to see more of in Calgary and wouldn’t have the opportunity to see, otherwise. So, you know, if a film comes through, comparing an everyday drama to something that’s got an element in it that we feel is more interesting or provocative, we certainly go [the latter] direction.

BR: Which international film festival does CUFF resemble the most?

BL: I would say Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal. It will be our seventh year attending that one and one of my absolute favourite thing about that festival, aside from their programming and their staff, is that, no matter how big that they’ve gotten – and they’ve gotten huge – they’ve never lost that small festival feel, so the staff are very collaborative and passionate. When you go and attend the festival, guests never feel left out, you meet with the filmmakers, the festival organizers. When you attend that festival, it feels like a very intimate personal experience, even though it’s just ginormous. That is something that was important to us when we started our festival 10 years ago and I don’t ever want to lose that. I think there’s so much positive energy that comes from it and the audience loves it. It allows us to feel more hospitable… it’s one of my favourite things to sort of try to make sure that we don’t lose as a group — never feeling too bureaucratic in terms of red lines of crossing.

BR: What makes a good underground film? What do you look for in the films that you screen?

BL: I like things that are impactful. I like things that will move you or shock you, something that, you know, has some level of impact, visually or story-wise. You know, a lot of the films that we program, they kind of catch you by surprise. You know what you’re going into from the synopsis and the still, maybe from what you’ve read to some degree, but they’re all going to have a powerful impact on you by the time you’ve left. They should all leave you thinking about it later or talking about it.

BR: Where does this passion for alternative films come from?

BL: I like quirky romantic comedies and I always try to find the weird, edgier jams, you know? I just like seeing story creativity, when somebody can tell a story that you’ve maybe heard a hundred times, but you haven’t the way they tell it. I think the passion comes from not only getting excited about something that you’ve seen and you can show, but from being able to discover for somebody else that doesn’t know how to find it for themselves.

BR: Bring that sub-culture to Calgary!

BL: Yeah! We do our best every year and it’s hard: some years, it’s not the right year for certain types of genre or audience for our films, but you know we try to find something for a lot of the subcultures: for instance, we have a bike documentary this year. I think we always kind of keep our eye out for one and we try to keep an eye out for snowboarding, skateboarding or something like that. Some years it works out and sometimes it doesn’t.

BR: The void you see in Calgary, what would that be? What’s missing here mostly?

BL: I’d say it would be great to get bigger audiences out to Korean cinema. We programmed a South Korean film this year. I’ve tried to program some really great Korean films at both festivals [CIFF and CUFF] over the years and there’s always an audience who likes to see more of it, but we’d like to get more of an audience out to it because some of the world’s greatest films come from there — actually, the one we’ve got this year won the big award at the Venice Film Festival. We always try and encourage the audience who’s into that to come out.

A void? Animated features, for sure. People love animated features and they’re really hard for us to program. We had a couple at the International in September, but, for Underground this year, we couldn’t find one that would work and I know that our audience would like to see more of that. Otherwise, we just think there might be more curatorial opportunities that we can involve ourselves with throughout the year to find a way to fill them in. Now that we have a larger programming team, my goal is that we could be more active this off-season when I’m busy with the International or just when our festival is in its downtime, we could do more special events from May to November, or until January. So, it’s been a positive thing that we’ve been able to grow our team and we have some ideas in the works.

BR: Anything you’d like to add?

BL: We always look for new audiences. I think the biggest fear some people have is they don’t come because they don’t have somebody to go with. People get kind of scared to go to a movie by themselves because they think it’s maybe weird, or intimidating, or they’re not motivated. No one will ever feel by themselves at our festival. There’s a lot of people who do it and I think it’s a very social atmosphere, really vibrant, and I feel it’s accessible because of that. My thought is that if you want to come and you want to take a chance on the festival and you’ve never been and you don’t have somebody to go with, to just do it once and, if you hate me for it, I’ll give you a refund. But, I think you won’t, because it’s going to win you over like the audience who does do it. We hope that everyone walks away with a really positive experience.

The Calgary Underground Film Festival will celebrate its 10-year anniversary from April 15 to 21 at the Globe Cinema. Tickets and more information can be

By Claire Miglionico


What is spiritual awakening?

Rainbow Spirit by Pink Sherbet Photography.

Twelve expressions of spiritual awakening

1. an increased tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen

2. frequent attacks of smiling

3. feelings of being connected with others and nature

4. frequent overwhelming episodes of appreciation

5. a tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than from fears based on past experience. 

6. an unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment

7. a loss of ability to worry

8. a loss of interest in conflict

9. a loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others

10. a loss of interest in judging others

11. a loss of interest in judging self

12. gaining the ability to love without expecting anything

For the longest time, I did not understand what the heck spiritual awakening meant. It sounded too “hippie new age” for me. Then, I opened myself to it and it changed my life. I feel like a weight has lifted from my chest heavy from regrets.

I’ve felt miserable and unhappy with myself for quite a while now. I sort of knew why I felt that way but never fully understood the reasons why. Plus, I never really had the necessary knowledge and the tools to end this never-ending negativity and constant sadness. I’d have the illusion that I was happy in my relationships but was never able to be fully content with my life because how to be happy with myself was a complete mystery.

Beautiful things would happen to me and yet I would only see darkness. I was stuck and have felt stuck for what feels like an eternity. To make matters worse, I was “stuck” in a dream-state of what life what meant to be. I couldn’t/wouldn’t open my eyes to reality around me. Now that I have, my perspective has completely altered. There are days where darkness “checks up” on me and it is the inevitability of the wandering mind. However, it doesn’t consume me like it used to. I’ve learned to be conscious of it and that’s something amazing all to itself.

I’m still learning and nothing will ever be perfect. I’m just glad I opened my heart to it.

Thought I’d share this with you. :)

Who are your real friends?

I have to say, this entire week has been overwhelming in both good and bad ways. I reconnected and met some amazing people who have a similar vision of the world than I do – you know, those people you can talk with for HOURS.  I had strange confrontational conversations that ended decently, but in my head, ended quite bitterly. I was even surprised by the lack of connectivity with a really good friend of mine. I left the conversation feeling confused about our friendship. Is it dying? Have our lifestyles grown so far apart that we cannot appreciate each other’s company?

I guarantee you she is probably thinking the same thing right now, something like “that didn’t feel right” and she’d be right, it felt…off.  After all, life does happen at random and at times you just can’t take things personally because for all you know, that friend who’s seemingly doing well in life is maybe dealing with issues of his/her own. Who freakin’ knows?

I’d like to present this post as a reality check for myself and perhaps to whoever else is reading this.

My question to you is who are your real friends?

Think carefully. What makes a friend a “real” friend? How many friends do you consider  to be “really close friends” with?

More than 10? Think again. Less than 10, even less than 5, you might be right.

I’d like to think I know who my real good friends are but sometimes I like to take a step back and reflect….

-That friend I was a listening ear to and a crying shoulder for, has he/she been there for me when I was facing a crisis?

-That non-judgemental approach I kept with friends dealing with harships, did I get the same approach back when I was the one knee deep in frustration/confusion?

-That initiation of conversation and hang-outs, am I the only one doing it?

-That awesome favor I did for a friend once, was it ever returned?

I say no matter how busy you are in life, if you give a damn about that said “close friend”, it doesn’t take much to fire a text. “Hey, how have you been?” is plenty enough! It takes 30 seconds or less to do so. Even better, pick up your phone and talk to your friend! You never know. A simple phone call might make someone’s day.

“Life’s in the way” is not a really good excuse when you actually consider that friend a “real friend”.

Alternatively though, you might actually NOT consider this person a real friend, which is absolutely and completely fair. Realistically, you cannot please everyone and have everyone please you back. And, people change – whether we want them to or not. People drift apart for awhile and sometimes reconnect later and that real connectivity is still there and sometimes people drift apart for good. People come and go and that will always be the nature of it.

Speaking of phone calls, a friend of mine called me earlier and yeah, it made my day, it really did. Phone calls are just amazing. I cherish them and favor them over a text any day. A phone call is much more personal and creates a sense of care and connectivity. He wanted to share with me news of his recent employment. I was stocked for him. In return, I told him about my new job and he was stocked for me too. We proceeded to chatter about life, how happiness can only be created within ourselves, and laughed about random shit.  We both observed that we were moving forward in life and that things were looking up.

It was a great little conversation, an actual exchange,  not an “up-the-other” pointless chatter. It was genuine.

That friend was there and has seen me at my worst. He gives me perspective, even when I don’t want to hear it and has been able to forgive instead of stubbornly judge the situation.

I’d say that’s a pretty good damn friend right there.

– Claire Miglionico

$100 Film Festival Recap

The festival weekend was great, filled with sweet films. Saturday night was particularly amazing! Lots of creative brains out there! In case you missed out, read this piece! It’ll give you a taste for next year!  -C.M. 

100 Dollar Film Festival-posterFEEL THE IMAGE RUN THROUGH YOUR HANDS

When I think of film festivals in Calgary, the $100 Film Festival always comes to mind first. It is presented by the Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers (CSIF) and brings experimental filmmaking forth in a three-day viewing exclusively of Super 8 and 16 mm films.

This year, the festival runs March 7, 8 and 9 at the now independently-run Globe Cinema. Paul Stickney, the Globe’s newly appointed manager, says he is thrilled to see the Globe serve as venue to the festival.

“It’s certainly exciting,” he writes in an email, “I really like the idea of a film festival committed to presenting smaller format celluloid. I can say that I plan to bring as many festivals as I can to the Globe over the next few years.”

James Morison was the original CSIF member and festival founder who saw the festival as a realistic opportunity to make and showcase his own films. He calculated that three rolls of Super 8, worth roughly $90, were sufficient for the kind of films he wanted to make. Rounding up to allow for some wiggle room, the $100 Film Festival was created.

“The whole thing was to make a movie under 100 dollars and, back then, people were using film anyway, so using Super 8 or 16 mm wasn’t a novelty. Over the years, we dropped the financial restrictions. Now, that everything is digital, it’s sort of become a niche festival in that way. It’s not about the budget anymore, it’s about the medium [used],” says Nicola Waugh, CSIF’s current programming director, communications director and festival director.

She says most films made now are most likely over the original budget although she thinks it can still be done.

Paul Clipson, this year’s festival’s visiting artist, confirms Waugh’s belief.

“Super 8 is still the most affordable motion picture film and it still maintains all of the qualities of film’s texture, saturation and aerial perspective,” he writes via email.

Clipson is the audio/visual technician and projectionist for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and a well-accomplished filmmaker and installation artist. He will be running a festival workshop/artist talk on March 9 at the CommunityWise Centre for a $5 admission. He’s won awards for his films at the festival two years in a row and is very much honoured to be this year’s visiting artist. He works predominantly with Super 8 film and says the lack of instant replay is what makes shooting Super 8 a completely unique experience.

“The fact that you can’t rewind [to] watch what you’ve just shot on film [and] have to wait for as long [as] a week before you can see it forces you to completely trust your senses and beliefs,” he says.

Caitlind Brown, a long-time CSIF volunteer and self-professed film lover, had her short film, Magicontrol, showcased at the festival in 2010.

“The $100 Film Festival is undoubtedly the most daring experimental film festival Calgary has going. There’s something magical about celluloid and, because all of the content screened at the [festival] is actually on film, [it] showcases a process-based and incredibly authentic aesthetic,” she writes in a Facebook message.

Murray Smith, a Film Studies graduate from the University of Calgary and now a web developer by trade, was a juror for the festival in 2010 and 2011.

“Back when I was into film, I reasoned that the extra work it took to shoot on film made it a better learning experience. You get to know the bare bones of photography because chemicals are far less forgiving than pixels,” he shares in a message.

The process-based and authenticity of Super 8 and 16 films seems to be what draws filmmakers every year to the medium-based festival along with curious-minded audience members.

In this fast-paced and technology-driven world, I can’t help but feel that we’re trying to bring ourselves back to old practices, whether it’d be developing our own photos in a dark room to wanting to process our own Super 8 and 16 films. That sense of touch and interaction seems to be predominantly missing in our current lives.

Waugh could not agree more. She has been with CSIF since July and says everything feels quite new to her but is visibly excited about the festival. She holds an undergrad Honours degree from the University of Calgary in Communications, where she focused on visual culture. She went on to complete a Master’s at Ryerson in Communication and Cultural Studies, where she wrote her thesis on nostalgia and material things. Thus, when the idea of a resurgence in “nostalgic” practices came along, it was right up her alley:

“It’s the tactility of it that’s lost and lost in so many things these days. Sure you can hold an iPhone, but [it does not compare] to hold[ing] a polaroid photo or expos[ing] that film and cut each frame how you want it to be? It becomes so much more emotionally charged [to have] this physical experience with actual celluloid,” she says.

At the CSIF office where I met up with Waugh, I caught up with CSIF’s production director, Yvonne Abusow. She helps with the festival’s Super 8 and 16 projection and has been doing it for two years now, alongside two other projectionists, who, on their part, have been doing it since the humble beginnings of the festival. Last year, she mostly stayed in the booth and made sure everything ran smoothly.

She shares that light bulbs can sometime explode or a belt in the projector can give way and that it is really the only tricky part about projection.

“There can always be technical difficulties,” she admits truthfully.

Nostalgic theories and projection mishaps aside, Waugh and I talk about the festival’s commission film project.

Kyle Whitehead is one of the festival’s commissioned artists. He is currently the production coordinator at Emmedia, a member-based organization that provides equipment access and programming opportunities similar to the CSIF.

“The commission project is the first of its kind that we’ve ever done. We got a grant from Canada Council [for the Arts] to get seven filmmakers to make original films for the festival,” says Waugh.

Once these films are showcased at this year’s festival, the CSIF is then responsible for getting these commissioned films onto the international festival scene .

Whitehead’s 16 mm film, Semper Porro, Latin for “ever forward,” was shot during his residency at Film Farm, an “independent imaging retreat” in Mount Forest, Ontario. It is ran by Canadian filmmaker Philip Hoffman.

“[Hoffman] has a huge barn set up as a full film production facility. He teaches most of the year at York University in Toronto and, every year, he invites roughly 10 to 12 filmmakers out to his farm,” he shares.

Whitehead started off with about 100 feet of film that he exposed with a Bolex – a 16 mm camera – and spent the rest of his time on the farm “contact printing” the film, a process similar to photo printing in a dark room.

“[Contact printing] is basically a process where you sandwich the original negative with a fresh piece of film and run it through a contact printer which re-exposes the fresh film through the negative. It’s basically like duplicating the original film [by re-printing] the same images in layers over top of each other,” he explains.

The result of this process was 400 feet of manipulated film that created abstract compositions.

Then, Whitehead split-toned the original black and white film with colour toners.

“What the toners do is replace the black and white emulsion with a coloured salt,” he says, more precisely, revealing he used a blue toner and a copper toner.

“‘Splitting-the-the-tone’ means you tone it through one toner – the blue first. You put [the film] in the developer for a few minutes and then put it in the second toner [which then] creates combined tones on the same frame,” he continues.

The sound for the film was surprisingly not added later on. It was what Whitehead describes as the “consequences” of the specific process he went through to acquire that particular sound.

“The sound is directly derivative of the images. It comes directly from the film itself,” he says of the raw and unedited process.

So, what does it sound like?

“It sounds quite rhythmic and almost musical. It has a pleasant tone. It’s a bit droning, but not in a harsh way.”

Whitehead says working with 16 mm, or Super 8 for that matter, is very much an artistically-oriented organic process. He says that going into the project, he had no idea what the film would look like.

“I find that sometimes when [I] let go of that control or that need to premeditate everything, I’m often pleasantly surprised by the results I end up with.”

The $100 Film Festival runs from March 7-9 at the Globe Cinema. Tickets for the festival can be bought at Bogies’ Casablanca Video and at the CSIF offices or

By Claire Miglionico
Poster: Kim Smith

Joshua Fraser: The Vernal Equinox Observation


I wrote a short blurb for Beatroute on this event but it did not make it in. I like the concept of this project so much that I want to share it with the rest of you. I hope to see others attending this event! I think it will be fantastic! Thanks to Joshua for getting back to me prompto by email back in February. Cheers!

On March 20, EMMEDIA is hosting The Vernal Equinox Observation by artist in residence Joshua Fraser. 

This neo-paganist interactive event invites guests to celebrate the forthcoming spring and will provide that sense of renewal and rebirth. 

Guests will be surrounded by an immersive space alongside “icons of spring” where musical meditations about the season will be held. These meditations will be guided by Beggars (Ian Maclean and Patrick Seager) and Citadel (Joshua Fraser). 

In an email, Fraser shares: “The event will incorporate elements of traditional European paganism – food to share, flowers, candlelight – and the additional practices that we have decided to honour the season by.” 

There will be a preliminary meditation which will segue into two musical tributes accompanied by video. 

“The intention of the preliminary meditation is to invite the audience

into the spirit of the celebration: to introduce the installed

environment and to guide a more personal, introspective meditation

through the surround-sound score,” he said.

Fraser is a multidisciplinary artist that strives to create situations which create empathetic responses in a sort of trance-like emotional state. 

He hopes people will leave the ceremony feeling energize after leaving demons of 2012 behind. 

“We will be celebrating and championing the lessons we’ve learned, and by doing so I hope that viewers will feel compelled to do the same.”

The event admission is by donation and starts at  7 pm and will run until late. 

– Claire Miglionico

Joshua Fraser is a multidisciplinary artist born and raised in Calgary. Fraser utilizes a broad array of methods towards his overarching goal: the facilitation of saturated emotional transference. This focus has emerged from an ever-increasing relationship with metaphysical and neo-pagan ideals and practices. Fraser’s work comes together as a determined pursuit striving to unite, reassure, and encourage viewers by championing the resilience of the human spirit. –