Story & Photography by Kate Smith

This November marks the 20th anniversary of Wilmington’s Cucalorus Film Festival, an independent film festival that showcases international and local films. Cucalorus brings together attendees and filmmakers from all over the world to see the latest creations from established and emerging artists.

“Film festivals are the cultural focal points of the 21st century,” says Cucalorus Executive Director Dan Brawley. “We explore how people are using moving images to connect with one another and to tell stories.”

More than 1,500 entries from 50 different countries are sent in to Cucalorus each year. It takes the Cucalorus selection committee a great deal of time to watch and consider each of these films, and they try to choose films that they feel will best fit into their different festival categories.

“We want to give a voice to different parts of the community and give a platform to films that challenge people,” says Brawley.

He and his colleagues also try to select films that will appeal to a large, varied audience. By dividing the films into different categories, the team at Cucalorus hopes to help attendees distinguish which types of films may hold the most appeal for them.

This year the Cucalorus festival categories include “Magnolia,” which consists of films that appeal to a wide range of audiences. These are typically films that have won awards on the independent film festival circuit.

The second category, “Voices,” has films that deal with issues of social justice. The “Vanguard” category showcases emerging artists and provocative and breathtaking independent films that exist outside of the culture of big-budget cinema. “Works in Progress” are unfinished works brought to audiences in an informal setting, and the filmmakers share clips and talk about their work and their vision. “Convulsions” is a category of films that are only shown late at night and include horror films and the “wacky and weird.”

The final festival category, “Kidsalorus,” is new this year. These films are geared toward audiences aged 7 and older. One of the kid-friendly films that will be screened this year is Zip and Zap and the Marble Gang, a Spanish adventure film based on a popular comic book series that hit No.1 in the box office in Spain. There are also plans in place to hold free screenings of several Kidsalorus films outdoors.

Each year Cucalorus opens the festival with Dance-a-lorus, which, according to Brawley, is “one of the coolest things that happens at the event.” At this opening-night performance at Thalian Hall, 10 to 12 different choreographers develop live dance performance pieces that incorporate film. The choreographers do something a little bit different each year, and it is always something innovative and exciting. “These performances support experimentation,” says Brawley. “They test new boundaries between dance and film.”

Brawley has been working with the festival in an official capacity for the past 15 years; however, he has been an attendee for the past 17 and was a volunteer for the festival’s fourth and fifth years. A Wilmington native, he left the city to study art and art history at Duke University. He moved back to Wilmington to look for work in the film industry in the 1990s.

“I probably wouldn’t be in Wilmington if not for the film industry,” he says. “It creates opportunities for artists and creative people that wouldn’t exist otherwise in a city this size.”

Wilmington’s film industry can also be credited as one of the primary reasons why Cucalorus exists today. The idea for the festival came from an underground collective of 12 Wilmington filmmakers who called themselves “Twinkle Doon.” The first festival was held in 1994 and only 16 films were screened. Although small, the event was a huge success.

At this year’s festival, more than 200 films will be screened. Typically, there are approximately 60 to 70 feature films, 120 shorts and 40 music videos.

“There are usually around 300 artists in attendance showing their work,” Brawley says. “The festival has the feel of an artist’s retreat. Downtown Wilmington is the perfect laboratory for this experiment. Filmmakers love the city’s home-grown feel, and it’s nice to be able to walk everywhere.”

Given that most other film festivals of comparable size in the country are just a few years old, the festival’s 20th anniversary is quite a milestone. But its age is not the only thing that sets it apart. Cucalorus also differs from other festivals in that it is non-competitive. There are no awards given, and there is no red carpet. Actors and celebrities attend the festival, but they have to buy a ticket like everyone else.

There are several ways to take part in the festival. Single tickets cost $10 to $15, depending on the show. Attendees can also purchase passes that will enable them to attend an allocation of screenings and festival events. Screenings are held in various locations throughout the city, and the full schedule and screening locations are available on the Cucalorus website.


Want to Go?

20th annual Cucalorus Film Festival
November 12–16, 2014
Various locations in downtown Wilmington