The Calgary International Film Festival has officially kicked off its 23rd year with more than 175 films screening between Sept. 22 and Oct. 2.
Organizers are hoping attendance numbers will increase after operating under two years of pandemic constraints.
The artistic director of the festival, Brian Owens, says he's already feeling the energy pick back up at Eau Claire Market, where the event is based.
"The last two years … we were able to do in-person, but we had to do it at such a restricted capacity that we were literally looking at only a few thousand people being able to attend," he said.
"We are not wholly expecting it to go all the way back to 2019 attendance levels. But you know what? It's actually gauging pretty darn close, and that's really exciting."
Several films included in this year's lineup were shot in the province or were Alberta-led, including Before I Change My Mind, a coming-of-age LGBT film, The Maiden, which looks at the emotional crises experienced by two Alberta teens, and Insanity — a documentary examining how society deals with mental illness.
Along with curating both Canadian and international films, Owens says the festival has been working hard to deliver an exciting visitor experience.
CIFF has built a public art installation made up of balloons, it's featuring live music — at the screenings for High School, which focuses on Calgary pop duo Tegan and Sara, and Nosferatu — and it's created a free, interactive media hub featuring video games and virtual reality experiences.
One of the pieces, called This Is Not a Ceremony, was created by Lethbridge filmmaker Colin Van Loon.
"It really challenges us as settlers to help take on the burden of what happened in the residential schools," Owens said. "It's an incredible use of virtual reality to really just inundate you with the message. It's beautiful."
Francheska: Prairie Queen
In the lead up to the festival, CBC Calgary spoke to a few of the filmmakers with pieces screening at CIFF.
Laura O'Grady is the Calgarian behind Francheska: Prairie Queen. The film follows the life of Filipino care worker Francis (Kiko) Yutrago, who lives in a town just south of Lethbridge, Alta., and is trying to find superstardom through his drag persona, Francheska Dynamites.
"I first saw Kiko as Francheska at a small town Pride event, and the weather wasn't great … so there was very few people there," O'Grady said in an interview on The Homestretch. "But Francheska took the stage, and she just lit it up."
Throughout the film, O'Grady explores the Filipino pageant circuit where Francheska Dynamites performs. She also looks at Yutrago's dedication to his family, working five jobs to send money back to the Philippines for medical and educational costs.
"He was also very instrumental in helping me understand the complexities of living a life here … and also how unfortunately under-appreciated our front-line workers are," she said.
"I think Kiko really wants other individuals living out, or not out, within the Filipino community to be inspired … you can live your life on your terms and still be respectful and supportive of your family back home."
The film will make its world premiere at CIFF on Sept. 23. There will be a rainbow carpet with several Filipino drag queens in attendance, Owens says.
I Get Knocked Down
Another documentary will focus on the life of Dunstan Bruce, member of the band Chumbawamba, after the group released its hit song in the 1990s, Tubthumping.
"I wanted to initially explore the idea of what can a political pop group do when they enter the mainstream?" Bruce said in an interview on the Calgary Eyeopener.
"I was asking myself all those sorts of questions about what had happened to Chumbawamba."
The band actually got together about 16 years before they came out with the hit, Bruce said. In that time, they built a loyal following as an underground independent band.
So when their song started to make waves, he says they had to decide how to respond.
"We had no idea it was going to be a hit … do we grasp this with both hands and make the most of it?" he said.
"What is the point of us staying pure and in the underground when … it's more important to talk to the rest of the world?"
After making the film, Bruce says he does believe pop groups can make a difference. He also says he holds no ill will toward the song. Fans still message him to this day to talk about how they relate to it.
"That song works because it's a universal message … I don't think we realized how powerful a message it was."
I Get Knocked Down makes its Canadian premiere on Sept. 23 at CIFF.
Father of Nations
Calgary filmmaker Aleisha Anderson's first feature film will make its debut as part of this year's CIFF.
Father of Nations is a post-apocalyptic drama set some time in the future, which was filmed entirely in this province with an all-Albertan cast and crew.
"We wanted to really explore the human issues and what somebody would go through at the end of all things. So it's quite an introspective piece and it's really about one man's journey trying to find hope," she said in an interview on The Homestretch.
A lot of the film was inspired by scenes the crew saw in the province, from the badlands to rural towns to abandoned barns.
They spent a lot of time in Hilda, a hamlet about 80 kilometres northeast of Medicine Hat, which had a tragic wildfire in 2017.
"Residents had reached out to us and said, 'Hey, if you guys are looking for post-apocalyptic, we have that,'" she said.
"Coming out of such a tragedy that really impacted their community quite deeply, it was a way that they could see something come out of it, a story that could be told there to showcase some of the people and the land and the environment."
The film is sold out for its world premiere at CIFF on Oct. 1, but it will be touring to Scotiabank Theatre Chinook, Anderson said, then to Edmonton, Red Deer and Medicine Hat.