It is Cucalorus time again! Wilmington’s festival of independent film—especially touted by Movie Makermagazine as “one of the 25 coolest film festivals” and “a film festival for the rest of us” as dubbed by Time—brings with it tourists. Each year filmmakers and film buffs converge on the Port City to hob nob and celebrate the best of the reel, from features to documentaries, shorts to music videos and even works-in-progress.
While the films are of the most interesting aspect for attendees, Live Local finds the visitors to the festival even more important. These people need food, shelter and maybe even a few souvenirs to take home. And the locals attending spend money on tickets and passes all contributes to building our local economy through the arts.
Each year, seemingly, thousands of Cucalorians descend upon Wilmington. This year they will see 125 films, meet many of the filmmakers, along with a host of other participants, including dancers, poets, musicians and at least one mime, according to Dan Brawley, the director of Cucalorus.
“[We have] roughly a dozen artists coming in from Poland, France, Scotland, Germany, Italy and Canada,” he says. “One artist in Argentina is wrestling government red tape—outcome uncertain.”
Though the attiude of the festival remains fun-spirited and truly a celebration of artistic communication and representation, the small staff who runs the festival, including seven full-timers only, and a host of volunteers, brings an economic impact on our little part of the world. The festival pairs filmmakers with people who are willing to host them in their homes for free during the festival, while others receive accommodations paid for by the festival.
“Cucalorus supports travel for about 60 artists” Brawley says. “We’ve booked and paid for about 35 rooms with local hotels and bed and breakfasts in the downtown area this year. We’d do more, but there aren’t enough hotel rooms in downtown!”
Yet, that is sure to change hopefully by next year, with the onset of the Courtyard Marriott breaking ground on Grace Street.
According to Cucalorus surveys in previous years, people who traveled to Wilmington came from 78 different cities. “We’re still working on the scientific matrix that will allow us to count exactly how many unique humanoids are coming this way,” Brawley jokes of 2011’s numbers, “but our estimates indicate more than 1,000 out-of-town guests will travel in for the festival in one way or another. Lots of intergalactic travel this year, which is nice.”
Cucalorus saw gross tickets sales of $59,895 in 2010. Though they used to only allow cash purchases, today they do accept plastic as payment. (“We encourage people to keep debt down unless its for art,” Brawley notes.) All-access passes are available for $300, and lower level passes with limited access can be purchased as inexpensively as $40. Tickets are on sale for as low as $10 a screening.
“We’re generous, always giving away passes to anyone who can walk upright and count to 10,” Brawley says. In discussing monies generated from the festival, he says, “I’m guessing that the creative energy will produce somewhere about 43 trillion dollars.”
All jokes aside, the Cape Fear has benefited substantially from film-related tourism for more than 20 years. The Hollywood Location Walk of Old Wilmington and Screen Gem Studio tours are only two examples. Living across from New Hanover High School, rarely a week goes by that I do not find tourists taking pictures in our front yard because they are huge fans of “Dream a Little Dream” or “Dawson’s Creek” (to name but two). Multiply that by more than 300 productions, according to the Wilmington Regional Film Commission, and that’s a lot of fans with hungry mouths and open wallets. 2012 already looks promising, too, thanks to “Iron Man 3” bringing with it a budget of more than 130 million to spend in Wilmington—the largest film to ever shoot here. “I’m pretty sure that ‘Iron Man 3’ is coming because of Cucalorus,” Brawley kids. “Those guys love moonshine and pimento cheese.”
In conjunction with Cucalorus 17, the 25th anniversary of the iconic cult classic “Blue Velvet” has been putting Wilmington on the map, along with other famed movies filmed here, including “The Crow,” “Firestarter,” “Muppets from Space,” “Lolita” and numerous TV shows. “Blue Velvet” is different mainly from its far-reaching lens, which has captivated worldwide audiences especially in Europe. It brought Dennis Hopper to Wilmington, where he maintained a residence at 20 Princess Street.
Local organizer of the “Blue Velvet” anniversary celebration, Steve Fox, is quick to point out the value of those dollars. “Cinema tourism is a real thing,” he says, “and most of the locations are still intact and accessible in a relatively small geographic area.”
With the anniversary looming, he set out to bring together a host of activities to the forefront of celebration, including art shows, screenings of films during Cucalorus, along with a bare-bones run-through of “Blue Velvet: The Musical.”
“My whole approach is: How can I draw as much attention as possible to the fact that this film was produced in Wilmington and the locations are still here?” Fox explains. He answers: “Getting as many people as possible interested and participating in as many events as we could conjure, and getting the word out that we are doing this.”
Thus far Fox has been contacted by ARTE TV in Germany and Wired magazine as the “Blue Velvet” celebrations get underway. As of encore’s deadline, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment was sending out press releases announcing the events in conjunction with the release of the 25th anniversary Blue Ray edition of “Blue Velvet.”
Hopefully the return on investment will continue to pay off. The original budget for Lynch’s film was $6 million according to IMDB, all of which was lovingly and gratefully absorbed into our local economy. Fox has financed the anniversary celebration for $3,566—“most of it out of my own pocket,” he says with a wry chuckle. It’ll be an investment that many of us hope to cash in on, as the movie’s fame increases each passing year, so does the value of the locations as a tourist destination.
So often the film industry in our beloved Port City is reduced to a series of anecdotes, but the reality of the cold hard cash generated by nearly 30 years of filming needs to be acknowledged. There are beaches up and down the East and West coasts, which tourists can visit—but Isabella Rossellini has only run naked through the streets of our town.
25 Year Anniversary Celebration of “Blue Velvet”
25 Years Ago: A retrospective look at the film and its memorabilia
Dennis Hopper Building • 20 Princess Street
(between the Federal Building and Level 5)
November 9th, 7 p.m. – 11 p.m.
On Wednesday evening, folks will be treated to a culmination of never-before-exhibited photos taken during the production of the 1985 movie. Then film student Peter Braatz contacted David Lynch about “Blue Velvet,” and upon the director’s invite, Braatz was allowed to document the movie’s making. His documentary, “No Frank in Lumberton,” aired on German TV in the Eighties, and Braatz still has a plethora of the cult classic’s props and stills, which will be showcased in an exhibition at Dennis Hopper’s old Wilmington apartment. Braatz will be in town during the show and for his screening during Cucalorus on November 11th.
The event is free to the public and will showcase tons of photos of the cast, the broken leg of the hooker, Isabella Rossellini’s robe, the famed severed ear, among other pieces of movie regalia.
Blue and Velvety
Projekte Gallery • 523 S. 3rd Street
A host of original artwork from artists worldwide hang at Projekte Gallery. The work was inspired by the legendary film and is free and open to the public through November 30th.
“Blue Velvet” Location Tours
November 10th and 13th, 1:30 p.m.
During Cucalorus 17, Benedict Fancy, filmmaker of “It’s a Strange World—the Making of Blue Velvet,” will lead folks around Wilmington to see some of the famed spots David Lynch utilized during the making of “Blue Velvet.” Tickets are $20 or free for Pegasorus passholders, and can be purchased online at cucalorus.org. Calling ahead for reservations is suggested.
“No Frank in Lumberton”
November 11th, 10:30 a.m.
Peter Braatz made “No Frank in Lumberton” as a behind-the-scenes look at the filming of ”Blue Velvet.” As part of Cucalorus 17, Braatz will show his Super 8 film at City Stage/Level 5, 21 N. Front Street, on Friday morning.
Local filmmaker Benedict Fancy will also show scenes from his own documentary, “It’s A Strange World,” and will answer questions about his works-in-progress. Tickets are $10 at cucalorus.org and are free for Pegasorus passholders.
“She Wore Blue Velvet” Fashion Show
November 11th, 7 p.m.
Under the tent at Lumina Station, in conjunction with Lumina Station’s Week of WOW (see page 43 for all details), Style Girl Jess James will be culling looks inspired by the Lynch classic. Tickets are $25 in advance, $35 at the door or $45 for VIP seating with champagne service (www.luminastation.com/wow). Clothes are featured from Wilmington boutiques, along with chances to win fashionable high-end prizes.
“Blue Velvet: The Musical”
November 12th, 1:30 p.m.
At City Stage/Level 5, in the Masonic Temple Building, which used to be owned by Dennis Hopper, “Blue Velvet: The Musical” will take place as part of Cucalorus 17. Headed by Alisa Harris, with compositional music by Bryan Putnam and screenplay written by Anthony David Lawson, the musical will pay homage to the surrealistic piece of film noir. The cast, including Zach Hanner, Madison Weidberg, Jane Houseal, among others, will have a read-through and allow the audience a first glimpse of the show. It’s slated to debut in Wilmington at Harris’ TheatreNOW in summer 2012.
Tickets are $15 or free for Cucalorus passholders at www.cucalorus.org.