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9 Canadian films screening at the 2019 Calgary Underground Film Festival

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From director Brent Hodge (Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary, A Brony Tale), the documentary Who Let The Dogs Out will make its Canadian premiere at the 2019 Calgary Underground Film Festival. Photo courtesy CUFF
From director Brent Hodge (Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary, A Brony Tale), the documentary Who Let The Dogs Out will make its Canadian premiere at the 2019 Calgary Underground Film Festival. Photo courtesy CUFF

Returning for the 16th year, the Calgary Underground Film Festival (CUFF) is set to once again showcase the best in genre film at Calgary’s Globe Cinema April 22 to 28. Brennan Tilley, lead programmer at CUFF, said this year’s festival (CUFF’s biggest ever with 30 features and 33 shorts) included a strong Canadian lineup.

“(With our lineup), it’s not like we’re saying we’re going to just pick the 12 best Canadian shorts or six best Canadian features. It really is that these are the films that we love,” Tilley said. “As long as Canadians and Albertans keep making great films, those are exactly what we’re going to want to show. There’s so many good ones.”

This year’s Canadian lineup includes Harpoon (directed by Rob Grant and produced by Michael Peterson and Kurt Harder), Brent Hodge’s Who Let The Dogs Out and the debut feature from Calgarian Cameron Macgowan, Red Letter Day.

Tilley weighed in on nine of the exciting Canadian productions featured at this year’s Calgary Underground Film Festival. This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for length.

HARPOON

From director Rob Grant (Mon Ami, Fake Blood), Harpoon will make its Canadian premiere at the Calgary Underground Film Festival. Photo courtesy CUFF

From director Rob Grant (Mon Ami, Fake Blood), Harpoon will make its Canadian premiere at the Calgary Underground Film Festival. Photo courtesy CUFF

Harpoon arrives at CUFF after having made its world premiere at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. The film follows three best friends stranded on a yacht under suspicious circumstances.

“Rob Grant is the director (of Harpoon) and he’s someone we’ve worked with before and are pretty familiar with. And the producers are friends of ours, and we’ve had their stuff come through our festival before,” Tilley said. “It’s quite an exciting selection to be part of that at Rotterdam and we were so happy for them to get that. And we’re so excited to host the Canadian premiere.”

WHO LET THE DOGS OUT

From director Brent Hodge (Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary, A Brony Tale), the documentary Who Let The Dogs Out will make its Canadian premiere at the 2019 Calgary Underground Film Festival. Photo courtesy CUFF

From director Brent Hodge (Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary, A Brony Tale), the documentary Who Let The Dogs Out will make its Canadian premiere at the 2019 Calgary Underground Film Festival. Photo courtesy CUFF

From CUFF alumnus Brent Hodge, the documentary Who Let The Dogs Out traces the curious origins of Baha Men’s hit song of the same name. Hodge’s previous film, Freaks & Geeks: The Documentary, took home the 2018 CUFF Audience Award for Best Documentary at last year’s festival.

“(Who Let The Dogs Out) just had its world premiere at SXSW. It’s a terrific Canadian film,” Tilley said. “I think it’s something in pop culture that so many people know but don’t really know the story behind it. A lot of people know at least know two or three lines from that song but don’t know what the song’s about. But this is about the history of it – it’s a great comedic documentary about copyright law.”

RED LETTER DAY

Calgary director Cameron Macgowan's feature film debut will make its Canadian premiere at CUFF 2019. Photo courtesy CUFF

Calgary director Cameron Macgowan’s feature film debut will make its Canadian premiere at CUFF 2019. Photo courtesy CUFF

Calgary director Cameron Macgowan’s first feature film Red Letter Day, a satirical horror/thriller, is set to screen at CUFF 2019. The film was a selection at the 2019 Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival, Cinequest 2019 and the 2019 Haapsalu Horror and Fantasy Film Festival.

“We’ve gone way back with (Macgowan) as a filmmaker. To have his feature debut screening with us is very exciting. That’s another film that is very much in the wheelhouse of the types of films we play,” Tilley said. “It’s really a film for video store nerds, as well as people who would rent a horror film on VHS and watch it over and over all night. I think it harkens back to that better than any film I’ve seen in quite some time.”

HAPPY FACE

From director Alexandre Franchi, Happy Face will make its Alberta premiere at CUFF 2019. Photo courtesy CUFF

From director Alexandre Franchi, Happy Face will make its Alberta premiere at CUFF 2019. Photo courtesy CUFF

From director Alexandre Franchi (The Wild Hunt), Happy Face is a part autobiographical drama and Franchi’s second feature film.

“This film is just so raw in its portrayal of its (characters). Every (character) featured in the film is playing a version of themselves, and in a way that really exposes them in quite an amazing way,” Tilley said. “You really feel for these characters. It raises questions about how people with deformities or disfigurements are treated, and how people deal with sick family. Plus, it has Dungeons and Dragons in it.”

FREAKS

From directors Zach Lipovsky and Adam B. Stein, Freaks will make its Alberta premiere at CUFF 2019. Photo courtesy CUFF

From directors Zach Lipovsky and Adam B. Stein, Freaks will make its Alberta premiere at CUFF 2019. Photo courtesy CUFF

From directors Zach Lipovsky and Adam Stein, Freaks bends elements of genre films with strong characterizations and compelling allegories. Read our interview with Lipovsky and Stein here.

“We’re really excited to be championing it. This filmmaking team is on the cusp of greatness. (Lipvosky and Stein) have made such a compelling film,” Tilley said. “It goes in unique directions and really pushes boundaries. It’s a science fiction thriller with a real family angle. It has some twists and turns that are really exciting for fans of genre-bending thrillers.”

SHORTS

Fast Horse (screened before Ask Dr. Ruth)

“That’s one that actually won the Best Director award at Sundance,” Tilley said. “So it’s really great given all the success it’s been having to be able to play it for a Calgary audience. That’s exciting, especially because it’s about the Calgary Stampede.”

Love After Ann (screened as part of the package Shorts: The Shape Of Things To Come)

(Love After Ann) is by Darrin Rose, who is a pretty big standup comedian known throughout Canada,” Tilley said. “This is a real quick hit short all about Henry the 7th, basically on speed dating. It’s terrific.”

Memento Mori (screened as part of the package Shorts: Friends And Lovers In Confusing Times)

Memento Mori is from Alberta. It’s quite a raw portrayal of a young woman coming to terms with her cancer diagnosis,” Tilley said. “It’s great.”

I Swallow Your Secrets (screened as part of the package Shorts: An All-Consuming Fear)

“That was made through SAIT,” Tilley said. “That’s really great to see them coming up and getting festival play.”

The 2019 Calgary Underground Film Festival runs April 22 to 28 at the Globe Cinema in Calgary. For full lineup information, visit calgaryundergroundfilm.org

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There Are No Fakes is a shocking journey into the world of art fraud

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Directed by Jamie Kastner, There Are No Fakes is a shocking feature-length documentary that centres on the work of Norval Morrisseau. Photo courtesy Cave 7 Productions
Directed by Jamie Kastner, There Are No Fakes is a shocking feature-length documentary that centres on the work of Norval Morrisseau. Photo courtesy Cave 7 Productions

Some of the best documentaries of the past two decades involve hard left turns – films that begin in one direction but end in another due to events that unfolded during production. There Are No Fakes, directed by Jamie Kastner, joins that select company of documentary as its comedic opening slowly morphs into something much darker.

There Are No Fakes centers on the work of Norval Morrisseau, the Indigenous Canadian artist of the Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek First Nation, sometimes referred to as the “Picasso of the North”. Morrisseau, who died in 2007, sought to remove forgeries of his art from the marketplace, establishing the Norval Morrisseau Heritage Society in 2005.

After Kevin Hearn (of Barenaked Ladies fame) buys one of Morrisseau’s paintings, he starts to doubt its authenticity and discovers a bizarre feud consolidated around Morrisseau. It’s this conflict, and the dark secrets hidden beneath it, that form the backdrop of There Are No Fakes.

Kastner (The Secret Disco Revolution, Free Trade Is Killing My Mother), who was friends with Hearn in high school, learned through conversation about Hearn’s ongoing lawsuit surrounding the Morrisseau paintings. It became clear to Kastner that such a story would be perfect for his next project.

“It was almost unbelievable. There was so much crazy stuff in this story, I couldn’t quite believe it,” Kastner said. “I told him if I was going to proceed with it, though we were friends he would have no editorial control. As a journalist, I would be talking to both sides, and he agreed.

“I went off on my own doing my own kind of digging and research. Lo and behold, everything he told me and then some turned out to be the case.”

Norval Morrisseau of the Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek First Nation was sometimes referred to as the "Picasso of the North". Photo courtesy Cave 7 Productions

Norval Morrisseau of the Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek First Nation was sometimes referred to as the “Picasso of the North”. Photo courtesy Cave 7 Productions

As the story unfolded and as Kastner continued to meet a succession of larger-than-life characters, he found himself shocked at what he uncovered. Bringing footage back to his editor provoked a similar reaction.

“He’d say, ‘Holy f***!’ Then I’d do another one, and he’s quite an even-keeled guy, and he’d say ‘holy f***,’” Kastner said. “So it was a series of ‘holy f***’ moments. I tried to recreate that experience for the audience.”

Documentaries can often unfold much as expected, with a known story dictating the outcome of the production. But given the fluid situation surrounding the events of There Are No Fakes, Kastner followed the story as it led him, knowing he had been handed an incredible gift.

“It’s definitely a privilege and a responsibility (to tell this story). You’re dealing with the legacy of one of our most important artists,” he said. “You wind up dealing with very serious issues of abuse of different kinds, so I felt a real responsibility.

“You have to handle it very carefully as a documentary filmmaker. It really is so unique and unusual and special and horrific and inspiring and a whole range of things that you don’t usually get in one film.”

There Are No Fakes made its world premiere at Hot Docs 2019, receiving highly positive reviews. Kastner said the film provided fascinating insight into the legacy of Morrisseau, touching on multiple problems still at play in Canada.

“It’s a very dramatic story. People can’t believe that they’re real people. They seem like characters out of some HBO series or something,” Kastner said. “I think it’s a very entertaining, edge of your seat, jaw-dropping type of story that happens to be a documentary.”

There Are No Fakes will screen at multiple locations throughout Canada in July 2019. For more information, click here.

Next to read on The Mutt: Tantoo Cardinal propels Falls Around Her in first leading role

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Isabelle brings psychological terror to an idyllic neighbourhood

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Starring Adam Brody, Amanda Crew, Zoë Belkin and others, Isabelle returns to Canada for a theatrical run starting June 28. Photo courtesy GAT PR.
Starring Adam Brody, Amanda Crew, Zoë Belkin and others, Isabelle returns to Canada for a theatrical run starting June 28. Photo courtesy GAT PR.

In a quaint New England neighbourhood, a charming young couple (Adam Brody and Amanda Crew) find the perfect home to move into. But what they find in that home complicates their dream to start a family, as darkness and paranoia emerges in director Rob Heydon’s Isabelle.

Following in the footsteps of other psychological horrors such as Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, Isabelle comes from a screenplay written by Donald Martin (Milton’s Secret). Having grown up watching genre films like The Omen and The Shining, Heydon approached the project looking to put his own stamp on psychological terror.

“Reading the script, I just got into it cold. Then once I got into it, I couldn’t put it down,” Heydon said. “I thought a lot about what other references it could be like and how I could help bring something to the story and the storytelling.”

Much like other films in the genre, Heydon’s intention for Isabelle was to emphasize the psychology of the terror as a priority. That meant slowly building up the characters and introducing new elements throughout the runtime of the film.

“In a sense, it’s trying to tell a story in three arcs and build the audience’s expectations up to the third act,” Heydon said. “We used the combination of cinematography and editing and music to bring the audience into the mind of the main character and have the audience experience what our main characters are going through.”

Isabelle made its world premiere in South Korea in October 2018, and has since played at 33 film festivals around the world. Photo courtesy GAT PR

Isabelle made its world premiere in South Korea in October 2018, and has since played at 33 film festivals around the world. Photo courtesy GAT PR

The strength of the cast – which includes Brody, Crew and Zoë Belkin as Isabelle – was essential given the nature of the material. Brody was the first to sign on, but other cast members took longer to materialize.

“Amanda Crew wasn’t available at the same time. So it took almost two years to put together the cast,” Heydon said. “But when their calendars lined up, we also got some amazing talent to surround them. Belkin, Sheila McCarthy, who played Isabelle’s mom… we were really lucky.”

Isabelle shot in Hamilton, Ont., with old Victorian homes posing as New England. Beyond the locale, Heydon said the cost savings attained shooting in Hamilton were significant.

“In Toronto, to rent a house for a day might be 10 or 15 thousand per day. In Hamilton, we were lucky to get three houses right next to each other for 20 days for $20,000,” he said. “You just can’t find that anywhere in Toronto.”

Having initially premiered in South Korea as part of the Busan Film Festival (along with fellow Canadian horror Lifechanger), Isabelle will now open to a larger release in Canada. Heydon said genre aficionados should find much to enjoy in Isabelle.

“I’d say read what the film’s about and check out the trailer – I think the trailer says it all. And if you’re interested, come check it out,” he said.

Isabelle begins its theatrical run in Toronto June 28 at the Carlton Cinema. For more information, click here.

Next up on The Mutt: Horror materializes in unconventional ways in Things Fall Apart

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Horror materializes in unconventional ways in Things Fall Apart

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Things Fall Apart, the first feature from director/writer Hussein Juma, plays June 2 at the Globe Cinema in Calgary. Photo courtesy Hussein Juma
Things Fall Apart, the first feature from director/writer Hussein Juma, plays June 2 at the Globe Cinema in Calgary. Photo courtesy Hussein Juma

Those familiar with Hussein Juma, director and writer of Things Fall Apart, know that it’s somewhat fruitless to attempt to fully summarize his work. That’s largely by design – Juma himself says he enjoys injecting ambiguity into his projects.

But more than that, what’s exciting about Juma as a director is his ability to create a sense of atmospheric dread based heavily on context and character and not cliché. So horror fans on the hunt for films that are likely to surprise should take note of what Juma says about his first feature, Things Fall Apart.

“If you like arthouse cinema, things that are going to challenge you and even scare you a little too, I think this film would be for you,” Juma says. “If you’re interested in new ways to tell stories, in indie cinema and the way it can reframe things and put them in different contexts, I think there’s a lot to think about with this film.”

That unique approach to story was evident throughout Juma’s 12-episode web series Horse Mask, a surreal horror that centres around a missing daughter, a forest and many mysterious masks. Though Things Fall Apart is Juma’s first feature, he says working on Horse Mask helped prepare him, given the fact that the runtime of that web series evens out to be around the length of a feature.

Set during a dinner party, Things Fall Apart lets audiences act as a sort of fly on the wall as tensions and emotions emerge.

“Things progressively get more tense between the characters. I think there’s a good balance — there are those moments where you’re going to feel uncomfortable, there are moments where you’re going to be scared, there are moments where you’re going to feel like, ‘What the hell is going on right now?’” Juma says.

Furthering his desire to tell a story in a fresh way, Juma says he employed improvised dialogue throughout Things Fall Apart, making up 80 per cent of the dialogue. Though actors were provided with full scripts, dialogue was written in beats that guided where conversations would go.

“When we finally selected our actors, we extensively rehearsed it multiple times. That was a really cool process,” Juma says. “I had a bare-bones, skeleton idea of where I wanted each conversation to go, but these actors got so into it and took it to interesting places. (Many times) I was like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s great. We have to keep that.’”

Through using improvised dialogue, Juma says he was able to capture the essence of a dinner party, complete with moments of levity, tension and awkwardness. Photo courtesy Hussein Juma

Through using improvised dialogue, Juma says he was able to capture the essence of a dinner party, complete with moments of levity, tension and awkwardness. Photo courtesy Hussein Juma

The cast, which includes Chengis Javeri (one of the leads in Horse Mask), Bobbi Goddard, Gina Lorene and more, was already familiar to Juma, giving him confidence that they would be able to pull off the improvised dialogue. Juma says surrounding himself with smart, funny people led to a number of happy accidents that made their way into the finished product.

Other times, Juma says he would play off what he knew about the actors themselves.

“If I could see even a sliver of tension between them in the real world or a sliver of something in a look that I see, I can kind of harness that in the film,” he says. “I think that worked really well in terms of when I wanted to play someone against another person. Because I worked with them before, I knew things I could whisper in their ear before a take to throw them off.”

Ultimately, Juma says he wanted to make a film that he would want to see himself. Based on his track record, it’s likely that horror fans looking for a surprising, experimental feature with strong character work will find it in Things Fall Apart.

Things Fall Apart plays June 2 at 2 p.m. at the Globe Cinema in Calgary. For more information, click here.

Next up on The Mutt: The story behind Uwe Boll, the so-called “worst filmmaker” ever

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