Calgary Underground Film Festival is back for its second year of COVID-era fun (and 18th edition overall). This year’s festival is broken into two parts: online-only events from April 23 to May 2 and then a smattering of drive-in screenings from June 3 to 5. Details on the drive-ins have not been made public yet, but we’ve highlighted nine exceptional selections for the online-only portion of the fest. Below, find everything from comedy and animation to horror and action — and beyond. Details on how to attend can be found on CUFF’s website.
The opening night film at CUFF isn’t scheduled arbitrarily; there’s an implied headliner-like status that comes from the placement. This year’s opener is Golden Arm, the comedic story of down-on-her-luck Melanie (Mary Holland of Happiest Season, Veep and Between Two Ferns: The Movie), a recently divorced baker in small-town Kansas. Just when she thinks she’s resigned to a dull, frustrating life, she discovers a secret talent: a preternatural ability for arm-wrestling. From there, hijinks ensue as she prepares to compete in a top-tier arm-wrestling tournament. The film streams live at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 23, followed by a Q&A with director Maureen Bharoocha and stars Mary Holland and Betsy Sodaro.
It’s the festival within a festival with oddball clips you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. Hosts Joe Pickett (The Onion) and Nick Prueher (Late Show) are obsessed with rare and strange VHS clips from days of yore. This year, they’re focusing on a collection of favourites among the subculture. If you’ve attended before, you already know this is a gut-busting and delightfully uncomfortable rollercoaster ride. This one takes place live at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 29.
This retro, family-friendly fun-fest is a three-hour program of vintage cartoons and the original commercials that ran with them. While it’s too bad we can’t gather for a cereal buffet this year, lead programmer and “lead cereal curator” Brennan Tilley suggests checking shops like Trust Convenience and Rocket Fizz (Airdrie) for the kind of uncommon cereals normally offered during CUFF. New guest curator David Bertrand also notes that you can order American cereals online via Candy Funhouse. This event takes place live at 9 a.m. on Saturday, May 1.
This Alberta-made feature by Calgarian Kyle Thomas comes hot off Cinequest and Canadian Film Festival 2021. Thomas has reunited with star Alana Hawley Purvis following their collaboration on his last film, The Valley Below. The plot follows Frankie as she returns to her small Alberta hometown in the wake of the sudden death of her parents. It explores the messiness and beauty of what it means to be a family. The film is available to stream on-demand from Friday, April 23 to Sunday, May 2.
If you love animation, you won’t want to miss the Canadian premiere of Cryptozoo. The otherworldly film follows a group of cryptozoologists (people who study mythical creatures like yetis and chupacabras) as they hunt for a “baku,” ultimately reckoning with whether to display it at their zoo or keep it hidden from the world. This one has stars you likely know, including Michael Cera, Lake Bell and Zoe Kazan, plus official-selection status from major festivals like Sundance and Berlin International Film Festival. It is available to stream on-demand on Saturday, May 1 and Sunday, May 2.
This new Canadian film from director Amelia Moses is an innovative flip on the werewolf sub-genre of horror. Indie singer-songwriter Grey (Lauren Beatty) is planning to record new music at an isolated property owned by music producer Vaughan (Greg Bryk), who has been tried and acquitted for murder, against the wishes of her girlfriend Charlie (Katharine King So). But the danger may not lie where it seems. A bonus here is the original music by Canadian singer Lowell, who also co-wrote the film. Bloodthirsty is available to stream on-demand throughout the festival’s run dates.
Beverly Glenn-Copeland — who you may have seen in concert as presented by Sled Island in 2018 or later at Calgary Folk Music Festival in 2019 — is an enigmatic Canadian musician with a story that lives up to his cosmic music. Glenn-Copeland is a Black transgender man who was featured on Sesame Street and Mr. Dressup before his transition. He moonlit as a hobbyist musician, resulting in the 1986 album Keyboard Fantasies (among others), which would go from relative obscurity to cult classic in the late 2010s. Glenn-Copeland subsequently became a live performer in his 70s with a group of players less than half his age. The film centres on what he taught a younger generation, and what they taught him in return. It’s available to stream on-demand for the duration of CUFF.
Go behind the scenes of the filmmaking process during this live script reading of local revenge feature Hurt Them. Cast members — including Michael Ironside, who also appears in CUFF 2021 selection Bloodthirsty — will go through the script before a Q&A. The film’s relatively mysterious synopsis says that the plot follows 75-year-old Arthur as he adjusts to life in a nursing home where a surprise visitor from his past emerges to play a game of lethal stakes. This event is free to attend and takes place at 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 1.
If you’re looking for A-list talent, action thrills and dark comedy, look no further than Riders of Justice. Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal, 2021 Oscar-nominee Another Round, Doctor Strange) is once again in front of fellow Dane Anders Thomas Jensen’s directorial lens. The film follows Markus (Mikkelsen) as he tries to hunt down a criminal enterprise responsible for his wife’s death with plenty of high-octane action along the way. The film is available to stream on Saturday, April 24 and Sunday, April 25.