Cucalorus Festival reminds me of a version of “Stone Soup” of the arts. “Stone Soup” is an old folk story my kindergarten teacher used to guide us little ones through a lesson about sharing. Not just that we should share, but the idea if we each come to the proverbial table with something (no matter how small) it results in a meal everyone can enjoy. Cucalorus started with a melting pot of film (shorts, docs, animation, et al) 24 years ago and has since invited more chefs into their collective creative kitchen.
“I’ve been coming to Cucalorus since 1994,” notes filmmaker and musician Norwood Cheek. “Most memorable was the Cucalorus 2 in 1995 when I made my super-8 film ‘I Dreamed and Bluebird’ that premiered at Cucalorus. I edited the film on film and only finished it the night before the screening.”
Cheek has witnessed the evolution of the festival firsthand. He’s even led the 10×10 Filmmaking Challenge, wherein 10 entrepreneurs are paired with 10 filmmakers to make a 4-minute promo video over five days of the festival. “It’s a very inspiring experience,” he tells encore.
In 2018, Cheek—who started the Flicker Film Festival in Chapel Hill and Los Angeles—will be evolving his role at Cucalorus. First off, he will host a workshop, Intro to Super 8 Filmmaking at Visual/Sound/Walls on Saturday. But before he gets behind the camera, he’ll take over the stage playing bass with the Cardinal Family Singers (CFS), which will open for Durham-based indie rockers Superchunk at Brooklyn Arts Center on November 7.
While Superchunk—including band members Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance, who launched Merge Records (Arcade Fire, M Ward and Spoon) in 1989—has most Wilmington music lovers excited for Cucalorus’ opening night, the Cardinal Family Singers offer a balance of electronics merged with modern indie and pop. “We are all artists trying to do something new,” Cheek says, “trying to entertain and challenge ourselves and our friends.” Folks will hear ‘60s and pop vibes on CFS’s track “It’s OK,” while “Secret Bookcase” is more bass-driven with a Pixies’ influence.
Cheek and Superchunk go back, too, as he directed five music videos for the group, including “Tie a Rope,” “Mower,” “Precision Auto,” “Hyper Enough” and “Art Class.” “I’ve known Superchunk since they formed in Chapel Hill,” Cheek offers, “Laura and I were at UNC together.”
Calling himself a “nostalgic futurist,” Cheek has an eclectic tenure in Wilmington’s film and music scenes. It spans back to his days with the band Sex Police. They played at the legendary Mad Monk, where some of David Lynch’s famed “Blue Velvet” was shot. At the Cardinal Family Singers’ foundation is a duo made up of Cheek and singer Peyton Reed. They’ve enlisted many other players over the years, from Eels guitarist Mike Sawitzke and drummer Derek “Knuckles” Brown, to Superchunk frontman Mac McCaughan and 13-year-old Ben Maxwell on cello, to Norwood’s own mom on backing vocals. Cheek’s appearance with the current iteration of CFS, featuring Lydia Hyslop (keyboard, vocals), Bill Ladd (guitar) and Jon Treneff (drums), at Cucalorus will be the first time they’ve played in Wilmington.
“Lately, my songs are about escaping or leaving or running away or a version of those sentiments,” he details. “I write a lot of songs based on melodies that come to me, usually when I’m driving. I am primarily a bass player so most of my songs rely heavily on the bass. I am enamored with synthesizers combined with a great guitar sound—Devo is a big influence on me, especially their first three records.”
Cheek is heading back into the recording studio in LA with singer and CFS bandmate Peyton Reed in 2019. “We are still writing songs for the new record, though, several of these we will perform Wednesday night,” he divulges. He also continues to produce music videos. His video for The Beths’ “Little Death” (“Future Me Hates Me,” August 2018) is playing as part of Visual/Sound/Walls on Thursday, November 8.
As well, Cheek is leading a free session on the evolution of film formats on Saturday, November 10. In it, he will provide insight into shooting super 8 today (available film stocks, camera features to look for, etc.) and give attendees hands-on experience shooting on super 8 film. The workshop is limited to 25, so folks should RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.