Cucalorus 22 green lights on Wednesday, and spotlights nearly 200 independent and international films. Recognized by MovieMaker magazine as “One of the Coolest Film Festivals in the World” for the past three years, its success didn’t happen overnight. Executive director Dan Brawley has spent 17 years leading the fest, and working through its transformation. “So many things have changed over time but only in small steps,” he notes.
A film-festival hybrid, featuring theatre, music, dance, and such, last year Cucalorus added a business film fair called CONNECT, presented by UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and tekMountain (see page 7). This year its bringing with it Cucalorus Comedy Takeover. Dead Crow Comedy’s traditional open-mic night, featuring local and amateur comics, begins the takeover on Thursday, Nov. 10. Two evening shows on Friday, Nov. 11 and Saturday, Nov. 12, include a lineup of Wilmington’s own Johnny Gray and Cordero Wilson, as well as out-of-towners Ashley Slater and Kevin Yee. Gray, Wilson, Slater, and Yee also will be the primary hosts who introduce the festival films around town at various venues. Yee, an ex-Broadway chorus boy, opens for headliner Annie Lederman on Friday and Saturday night respectively, at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. He can’t wait to return to Wilmington. “North Carolina loves me,” Yee says. “But don’t quote me on that.”
Yee made the transition to comedy after being continually typecast in roles like the best friend, or the take-out guy, or Asian guy #5. “I thought those lines were my only possibility to have a voice,” Yee admits. After selling his NYC apartment and moving to LA, he combined his innate sense of humor with the only other thing he knew: music. But a certain marginalization comes with being a comedian who implements music into a routine. Critics often think of songs as an act, a gimmick or a cheap trick. This isn’t the case for Yee; music is his life. The Vancouver native—a gay, Asian comedian—is no stranger to being a minority, and he still refuses to think of himself as such. “Stand-up is people telling stories in their own way,” he clarifies. “I’m up there doing the same, just trying to prove that I exist.”
Annie Lederman’s badassery fuels her routine. While in a school for juvenile delinquents, she would sneak into the city to buy weed during lunch. Later, she’d end up devouring Cool Ranch Doritos from the vending machines. Appearing in “Girl Code,” “Chelsea Lately” and Comedy Central’s “@midnight,” Lederman’s comedic rise began interpersonally.
“I got crabs in college and thought it was hilarious—I told everyone,” she says. “Then my best friend and I went to Red Lobster to celebrate.”
Somewhere between the free cheesy biscuits and lure of buttery seafood came her epiphany. “My first reaction to embarrassing and sad stuff was to laugh and share,” she explains. Though it’s her first trip to Wilmington, the festival brings with it a sense of nostalgia for Lederman. While in high school, her father would pick her up after class and take her to the movies. They’d only watch critically acclaimed films. The theater, Lederman remembers, always vacant at 5 p.m., gave her the ethereal vibes of a private screening.
Cucalorus never hesitates at the chance to grow. Based off of CONNECT’s success last year, Brawley jumped at another opportunity to include a local business. The addition of Dead Crow—Wilmington’s premier venue for comedy—will only further expand the festival, making the turnout at Cucalorus 22 the largest yet.