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Birthday Extravaganza: Cucalorus celebrates 20 years and the end of their Kickstarter campaign

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Cucalorus finally has made its way out of adolescence; however, that doesn’t mean there will be any less kookiness during this year’s film festival. In fact, like any 20-year-old, the festival is looking for money. They launched their annual Kickstarter campaign in September, and with only one day left, they’ve started preparation for their campaign’s closing party. The shindig also will serve as a birthday party for the film festival and will be held tomorrow night at Bakery 105. The campaign, which was a Kickstarter staff pick, officially will end at 9:27 p.m. on Friday.

“To me, the real urge to back projects is the sense of belonging to something good,” Dan Brawley, festival director, says. “We all send big chunks of our income to the power company or a bank, so it feels good sometimes to give your money to something you believe in and can feel connected to.”

20thAnniversaryLogo_300RGB_TransparentCelebrating Cucalorus’ two whole decades of filmic delight is quite the accomplishment, especially considering that Cucalorus grows every year. Attendance gained a 25 percent increase just last year. They’re expecting even more volume during this year’s festival (November 12 – 16), as they prepare to screen 129 shorts, 43 features and 21 docs. More than 300 artists—from Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina—will be at the festival in support of their work. Cucalorus doles out the cost to fly in these filmmakers and house them during their stay.

“We’re still booking flights and talking with filmmakers, so we don’t really know exactly how many will be coming out for this year’s festival,”  Brawley informs.

Their growth correlates directly with their budget, as they’ve expanded their operations department to accommodate such a dramatic influx of festival-goers.They even have raised their Kickstarter goal to $30,000 this year—which is up from $23,000 last year. Thus far they’ve raised a little over half their goal.

“We’ve had great luck with Kickstarter over the past three years, and we just felt like we had a growing pool of supporters who would be willing to back the campaign,”  Brawley says. “We have no idea if we’ll make it! I think that’s why I like Kickstarter: There’s a real sense of urgency. It’s all or nothing, so it could be seen as risky. We think it’s fun to put your work on the line; we ask filmmakers to do that all the time, so we’re just taking our turn.”

Aside from flourishing attendance, the tech department also has seen an increase in cost. Many moons ago, before digitization took over cinema, the festival had six or more formats to work with. The shift from 35mm film to the digital realm created myriad problems for the festival to undertake. Now the process is much simpler, but it also is more expensive. Cucalorus has enlisted the help of K2 Imaging out of New York—a company that does tech for Sundance and the Tribeca Film Festival—to help. This year digital formats will be utilized at City Stage, and they’re looking to expand to all venues, including Jengo’s Playhouse, Thalian Hall, TheatreNOW, Bourgie Nights, and Bellamy Mansion, next year, assuming things go smoothly during Cucalorus 20.

A lot of other firsts are in the works for 2014, too. For instance, they will be holding their signature midnight brunch on the Henrietta III this year. “That could get good and weird with a holler and some grits,” Brawley tells. “We’ll have our usual menu of craft cocktails—with [moonshine purveyors] Midnight Moon, Catdaddy, and two new sponsors, Larceny and Lunazul.”

Cucalorus 20 also will jumpstart their new pop-up cinema feature, sponsored by PNC, wherein folks can check out free, outdoor screenings at Riverfront Park during the festival. They’ll be screening “Flash Gordon” and “King Kong,” two films which will augment their retrospective on iconic producer Dino De Laurentiis. He upstarted the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group in Wilmington; the facilities now house EUE/Screen Gems Studios. Pop-up cinema was derived from their successful summer nautical film festival, Surfalorus, which boasts a host of outdoor screenings. Plus, they’ll have a “Flash Gordon” costume contest and a banana-eating contest before the screenings, respectively.

Looking toward the future, Cucalorus plans to take Surfalorus on the road next year. Having connected with the Dare County Arts Council, the film festival will dig its feet into the sand of the Outer Banks. This will be one in a long line of experiments the festival has tried out, which includes a stand-alone kids festival they had years ago.

“I think of Jengo’s Playhouse as a little lab,” Brawley details. “It’s a small venue, so we can take some risks and test programs out before we really throw them out there. And with our residency program, we’re inviting artists from all over the world to join in.”

Their residency program has invited classically trained flutist and multi-instrumentalist Rozalind MacPhail to join the ranks of Cucalorus. She will be playing tunes to accompany silent films from her Head First project at Bourgie Nights during the festival. As well, this year will feature a very special project by Scottish archivist and silent film enthusiast Shona Thompson.

All of Cucalorus’ efforts to broaden the cultural horizons of southeastern NC stem from the generosity of the community. Folks who want to help out can donate to their current Kickstarter campaign. Rewards range from drink tickets and bumper stickers to vintage Cucalorus posters and special event tickets. The fundraising efforts will culminate in their upcoming birthday party.

Unlike most years, the Kickstarter party will have free admission, which comes as an accessible reward for the thousands of supporters who would like to help them ring in their milestone. A birthday cake, piñatas and a slideshow that chronicles Cucalorus’ years of cinematic celebration will color the festivities. “Hopefully, there will be a bunch of rich people there, too,” Brawley quips.

While the upcoming birthday party will highlight the crowdsourcing campaign that makes Cucalorus possible, it also will be a time of reflection. “I’ve had the great privilege of learning my job while I do my job,” Brawley comments. “I’m still doing it because there is always another challenge around the corner. We’ve had fun experimenting with events, trying new things in the summer and spring.”


Kickstarter Birthday Party

Friday, October 17, 7 p.m.
Bakery 105, 105 Orange St.
Admission: Free


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