One of the largest film fests in Canada, the Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF) is dedicated to honoring burgeoning moviemakers from around the world who possess an undying passion for their craft. This year’s festivities, which ran from September 25 through October 4, featured 188 Canadian and international film screenings from more than 100 countries. Best Canadian Feature was awarded to High Life; other honors included Best International Feature (Katalin Varga), Best Documentary (Tibet in Song) and People’s Choice (Lovers in a Dangerous Time).
MM recently caught up with CIFF program manager Trevor Smith to discuss this year’s event, including its exciting new “Mavericks Series” competition.
Kyle Rupprecht (MM): CIFF celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. What’s the secret to the fest’s continued success?
Trevor Smith (TS): I think a big part of what has made CIFF so successful is its determination to find and program the best in world cinema. I know that’s a cliche but when you’re a regional festival like us, you have little else to build on other than your core cinephile audience, regional culture and curatorial strength. I think that the industry and filmmaking community then begins to buy in and come when they trust that the root program, aesthetics and legit mandate is there. Plus, we’re a cool place to visit!
MM: What was your favorite memory from this year’s festivities? Was there one film you especially loved?
TS: My favorite memory was the closing ceremonies—the giving away of the first Mavericks prize ($25,000) to one of 10 new emerging talents. We brought these 10 amazing voices in cinema to our city from all over the globe and that energy, the films themselves and the “birthing” of this new venture was very special. I really believe that it proved to us more than anyone that you can, with curatorial focus (and a honking big prize), mobilize great talent and reward the best in renegade world filmmaking. Plus, meeting these gifted directors and pooling them together was a super achievement.
Truthfully, the winner, Karaoke, was one of my top viewing experiences. The screener just showed up on my desk one day and the shock of its bravery and pacing left a big impression on me. The jury, clearly, saw similar merit and inventiveness.
MM: Tell us a little about Mavericks series. What criteria was used to judge the “maverick” films in competition? What made Chris Chong Chan Fui’s Karaoke stand out?
TS: The Mavericks series is a competition we designed to reflect our attitude as a city and region and make CIFF a destination for filmmakers looking to try something different. It’s a bit cowboy and really Albertan. We respect hard-working outsiders who do it their own way. Our region is founded on these frontier values. We wanted to celebrate new talent that crafts narrative cinema in inspiring, variant ways. We want to celebrate alternate models of storytelling. The series was really about voice and vision. We are looking for films that exemplify conviction to the ideas of its director… whether the experience is easy or not.
In my opinion good films push your expectations of what cinema can be and never take the standard route. The criteria were essentially three key points: Remarkability, form/style and overall effectiveness. In the end, the jury was looking for a bold, deftly handled story that illustrated immediate gifts and suggested future promise. We expect that all of our Maverick competitors reveal themselves to be long-running auteurs and stylists on red carpets around the world. We’re betting on it.
MM: Do you have any plans yet for the programming of the 2010 CIFF? If so, what are they?
TS: Naturally, I can’t wait to build Mavericks 2010. That being said, the whole program really matured this year and I want to keep the momentum going. We’ll likely be leaner, and even more focused on bringing outsider voices to the foothills of Canada and giving each of them a few good days of festing and Calgarian hospitality.
MM: Ten years from now (when CIFF will be celebrating its 20th anniversary), how do you think the fest will have changed? What will its reputation be?
TS: I’d hope that CIFF will have its own buzz and defined identity. Maybe that’s Mavericks; it’s too soon to tell. We don’t need to compare ourselves to any other festival necessarily. That’s key. Other juggernauts like TIFF do the big thing as well as humanly possible. I think we need to keep embracing our regionality by supporting Canadian cinema and jamming our own filmmaking talent up against the best the world has to offer. We live in a really beautiful part of the world, operate a world-class film industry, and have many intelligent film enthusiasts here. Ideally CIFF becomes a place on the industry calendar where they come to kick up their heels and hang out in a mellower, stimulating environment.
Visit http://www.calgaryfilm.com for more information.