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Cucalorus Film Festival

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MovieMaker Magazine | Issue #47 | Cucalorus Film Festival

John Hulme’s Unknown Soldier

Held in the historic port city of Wilmington, North
Carolina, from March 20 -24, 2002, the Cucalorus Film Festival drew
over 5,500 festivalgoers to an eclectic slate of independent films
from all over the world. Bold, insightful programming, a laid-back
rock and roll atmosphere and gorgeous seaside locale no doubt contribute
to the “summer camp for moviemakers” vibe, making Cucalorus the
best kept secret on the indie fest circuit.

Since 1983 the Wilmington region has been one of
the most productive and cost-effective moviemaking destinations
in the world. To date, the Wilmington area has hosted over 300
features, mini-series, movies of the week and six TV series along
with numerous commercials and music videos. In 1994, a group of
local independent moviemakers dubbed “Twinkle Doon” screened an
evening of homegrown films to a small but standing room only crowd.
This support and enthusiasm sparked a plan to set up an annual
film festival event in Wilmington, which resurfaced in 1996 and
has become a yearly occurrence ever since. As the festival grew,
panel discussions and hands-on moviemaking seminars worked their
way into the schedule, attracting the likes of Kodak
and Panavision to sponsor the efforts.

For this eighth edition, Cucalorus Film Festival
was named to the prestigious “Top 20 Southern Events” by the Atlanta-based
Southeastern Tourism Society. For Opening Night, Cucalorus reached
back and screened the timely D.A. Pennebaker/Coen Brothers’ rock-doc Down From The Mountain.
Pennebaker’s signature tips and turns of non-linear camera
movements and direct, uninterrupted fly-on-the-wall observation
shine as the film goes backstage in Nashville with the now famous
touring group of O Brother, Where Art Thou? musicians.

The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, starring Jodie
Foster and Kieran Culkin, closed both the Philadelphia and
Cucalorus Film Festivals.

Aside from the standard Opening Night Reception, lunch
panels and cocktail hours, unique to Cucalorus are the party-’til-dawn
moviemaker gatherings called “Late Nights,” beginning after midnight
throughout festival week. The BYOB events brought
together some of indie rock’s finest to join the Cucalorus festivities.
Most notable was an amazing 2 a.m. set by Darla Record’s alt. country
rockers My Morning Jacket, playing to a standing room only crowd
at the legendary Third Floor, organized by Wilmington pop music
legend Fred. Liverpool had John and Paul, Wilmington has Fred.

Back to daylight and the films: Shorts blocks featured
a blend of festival hoppers and premieres. Among them were David
Brooks’ highly stylized piece, Member, starring Josh Hartnett,
which masterfully climbs inside the mind of a Los Angeles cab
driver who, fed up with capitalism, slips over the edge into a
colorful downward spiral of pop culture-induced insanity. Also
standing out in the shorts category was the masterfully
edited Offside by Leanna Creel and the animated gem I Was A
Strip Club Virgin
by Rachel Max, which brings to life a bachelorette
party gone wrong, complete with greased up men and crinkled dollar
bills. Offside retold the true story of the Christmas of 1914,
when British and German soldiers on the Western Front put down
their weapons to play a game of soccer in ‘no man’s land.’

The strongest film shown was John Hulme’s gripping
documentary Unknown Soldier. This world premiere chronicles
Hulme, along with the masterful work of Wilmington-based DP Bo
Webb, piecing together the history of a slain Vietnam soldier,
Hulme’s father. Uncanny coincidences and powerful moments aided
Hulme in his journey and the portrait that emerges of his father
is a complex one. On a grand scale, this film captures a unique
piece of American life and history that, along with the passion

of the moviemaker, should land this film at many other festivals
worldwide.

Attesting to the festival’s continued growth and
ambition, the Cucalorus Closing Night film was The Dangerous
Lives of Altar Boys
produced by Jodie Foster and starring
Foster, Vincent D’Onofrio, Kieran Culkin, Jena Malone and Emile
Hirsch, making its hometown premiere after its world premiere
at Sundance 2002. Directed by Peter Care and shot in Wilmington,
Altar Boys delicately captures the real emotion and turmoil
of childhood. The film is slated for theatrical release this
summer. Due to the overwhelming response shown at the box
office for the first screening of Altar Boys, Cucalorus
carried the film over for a second screening. Ironically, the
only available time slot was on Sunday morning.

Each year, Cucalorus grows in size and impact. As
a non-competitive event, this summer camp by the sea has been
capturing the true spirit of independent moviemaking since its
inception, and will continue to do so in years to come. MM

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