When Hollywood came to the Cape Fear area more than two decades ago, it gave locals the opportunity to learn show business from the ground up. As budding filmmakers, who started working as extras and assistants, learned the ropes they also acquired the skills and desire to make their own films.
One such group of independent filmmakers, known as Twinkle Doon, made their own films when they weren’t working on big-budget studio movies, and they wanted to share their independent work with others. On one evening in 1994, they hosted a screening of 16 films at a waterfront restaurant in Wilmington.
That modest start has now evolved into a four-day international film festival known as Cucalorus. The 14th Annual Cucalorus Film Festival takes place November 12 through 15 in Wilmington. Organizers and filmmakers are bringing in more than 145 documentaries, features and shorts from around the world, selected from close to one thousand entries.
“It’s now one of the biggest film festivals in the Southeast,” says Dan Brawley, who has been a director of the festival since 1999. “Filmmakers from all over the world are vying for the coveted spots on the schedule.”
Although still unknown to some locals, the Cucalorus Film Festival has attracted attention from national media and is on the circuit of more than 600 film festivals that take place across the country.
Movie Maker , a magazine about the art and business of independent filmmaking, called Cucalorus one of the best-kept secrets on the festival circuit. Wilmington’s film fest also got noticed by Time magazine, which called the event a “Film Festival for the Rest of Us”—in other words, a lower-key version of big-name, red-carpet affairs such as Cannes and Sundance.
Another way that Cucalorus stands apart from the crowd is that it doesn’t give awards.
Without the pressure of who takes home the top prizes, filmmakers come together simply for the love of making movies.
“One of the things the filmmakers comment on is that the audiences are regular people,” says Brawley. “It’s not the fancy, New York crowd. This is an authentically Southern experience with honest feedback on their films. That’s something filmmakers crave.”
For years, Cucalorus, which is named for a piece of filmmaking equipment, has become known as a place where the spectators and creators can intermingle.
“We are the envy of many festivals,” Brawley says. “In this festival, with limited backing, it’s just people who do this because they love to do it.”
In addition to film screenings, Cucalorus also includes a schedule of workshops, a Blue Velvet tour of locations of the Wilmington-made cult classic, and the opening night event called Dancalorus, which combines dance and film.
New this year is the Worksin-Progress program, which offers filmmakers who are in the final stages of editing an opportunity to showcase their films in a workshop-style setting.
For filmmakers, it’s a chance to get critical audience feedback. For the audience, “it’s a chance to see films before they hit the festival circuit, a chance to see the future of filmmaking,” Brawley says.
For years, Cucalorus has been held at several venues around town, with the Community Arts Center serving as home base. Now the primary venue is historic Thalian Hall, with the 60-seat Jengo’s Playhouse theater in downtown Wilmington also hosting screenings.
The 14th Annual Cucalorus Film Festival takes place November 12 through 15 in downtown Wilmington.
All-inclusive Festival Passes are $150 and include priority seating at screenings, as well as entry into parties and the filmmakers’ lounge. The $75 Screening Pass gets you into all screenings with priority seating. Individual tickets to events are $8 to $20. For more information, call (910) 343-5995, go to www.cucalorus.org , or stop by the Cucalorus Film Foundation office at 815 Princess Street in Wilmington.
For a preview of this year’s lineup, here are a few of the Cucalorus documentary picks.
The documentary feature, directed by Ashley Sabin, is a look at life on the Mexico/Texas border for Ceci and Camillo Ramirez and their daughter Loida, in Reynosa Mexico. As they follow their dream of building a financially secure life, they must also confront and embrace the reality of living in an industrial town that threatens to split the family apart.
Pickin’ and Trimmin’
Wilmingtonian Matt Morris directed this short film about the barbershop in the small town of Drexel, N.C. For more than 40 years, Lawrence Anthony and David Shirley have been cutting hair, playing bluegrass and providing a gathering place for all who yearn for the good old days.
Bending Space: Georges Rousse and the Durham Project
The documentary feature by Kenny Dalsheimer captures the genius of French photographer and installation artist Georges Rousse. It follows the artist and 200 volunteers during a September 2006 art residency in Durham, N.C. The movie offers insight into the complex process of creating Rousse’s signature trompe l’oeil illusions of color and shape.
In A Dream
Over the past four decades, artist Isaiah Zagar has covered more than 50,000 square feet of Philadelphia with stunning mosaic murals. This feature follows Zagar as his marriage implodes and a harrowing new chapter in his life unfolds.
What happens to the 705 residents of Crawford, Texas, when George W. Bush moves to town? Director David Modigliani takes a closer look at their town, which was shoved into the spotlight for political stagecraft and exploded overnight. Droves of tourists buy T-shirts at brand-new stores; the high school band plays at the inauguration; their Baptist pastor calls it a miracle. But by 2004, the Iraq war sours and in 2005 the President’s problems follow him home in the person of Cindy Sheehan. Soon, tourists stop coming; stores get boarded up; Crawford’s boom goes bust.
The Siamese Connection
Director Joshua Gibson explores the living history of Chang and Eng Bunker, conjoined twins from Thailand, who settled in the North Carolina foothills during the Antebellum South, married two local sisters and raised 21 children. Using a collage of scenes from Thailand and contemporary Mount Airy, we discover that these men still exist vividly in the contemporary imagination.