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25 YEARS IN REVIEW: Celebrating Cucaloruses past and present

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Our local independent film festival turns 25 this year and will have a Kickstarter Launch Party Wednesday to help celebrate, with tacos, beer and rum. Photo courtesy of Cucalorus


Since 1994 Cucalorus has been a critical constituent to the success of independent filmmakers. One of the first film festivals established in North Carolina, Cucalorus started as a local venture, wherein filmmakers had access to an audience and screen time. The first year was organized by Twinkle Doon, a bold indie filmmakers collective, and featured 16 short films at Water Street Restaurant. Fast forward to 2019: Cucalorus welcomes up to 300 artists from all over the world at numerous venues from Thalian Hall to Cape Fear Community College. It’s also grown beyond film, into live stage performances in music and theatre, plus business and tech talks. 2019 will see the festival celebrating 25 years in Wilmington.

Dan Brawley talks about Cucalorus 25 and their Kickstarter kickoff party, taking place Wednesday, July 17.
Photo courtesy of Cucalorus Festival

“Within the last 10 years alone, a lot has changed,” confirms Dan Brawley, executive director of Cucalorus. Brawley has been with Cucalorus since 1999. “There are thousands of film festivals in North America now,” he continues.

Through the years, filmmakers’ needs have changed, and so Cucalorus adapted with them. With technology in mind, in 2015 the festival established Cucalorus Connect, a two-day conference amidst the five-day festival. It focuses on the intersection between technology and creativity. This year the fifth annual conference will be held at Brooklyn Arts Center and will follow the same five tracks as the previous years: Healthtech, Gigtech, Fintech, Startups, and the Community Brew. Although in 2019 the theme of public health will run through a lot of events.

“We’re looking at ways creative people are using old and new technology to increase access to health care and improve health outcomes, especially for marginalized communities,” Brawley explains.

Cucalorus believed 25 years ago and continues to believe that everybody—regardless of race, class or gender—should have the opportunity to create. In 2011 Cucalorus established their own artist residency program—one of many initiatives that increase opportunities for women, artists of color, and artists living in rural communities.

“It’s helpful for artists to displace themselves from their normal environment, and having the opportunity to experience a new culture, a new geography can be so valuable to the creative process; it’s where discoveries happen,” Brawley explains.

The grant program, “Filmed in NC,” awards funds ranging from $500 to $3,000 to NC filmmakers to support new projects.“We know it takes money to make movies,” Brawley notes.

It’s important to Brawley for Cucalorus to remain conscious of the community’s resources and use those resources to support others. Every year 50% of films featured at the festival are directed by women. As well, in 2018 Cucalorus established the Lumbee Film Festival in Pembroke, NC, which showcases original films directed by American Indians.

“We have a new appreciation for cultural boundaries and how you should approach talking about indigenous culture and who should be directing those movies,” Brawley explains. “We are more in tune with that need than we were 25 years ago.”

In the spirit of celebrating inclusivity, Cucalorus will tag its 2019 event “A Festival for Everyone.” Also, in concurrence with its anniversary, Cucalorus will pay homage its roots, including the locally filmed cult-classic “Empire Records” (soon to be a Broadway musical) starring Liv Tyler, Renee Zelwegger and Rory Cochrane (the latter of whom is in town filming Hulu’s new show, “Reprisal”). Cucalorus will be taking over a storefront on Front Street and recreating the festival’s first venue: Water Street Restaurant.

“We’ll have an interactive storyboard timeline around the room, seeded with pictures and other mementos from each year of Cucalorus, and people will be able to come up and write about their experiences at the festival over the years,” Brawley describes. “Hopefully, we’ll end up with written testaments representing the impact Cucalorus has had over the years.”

Cucalorus has volunteer positions available and welcomes folks to attend weekly main brain sessions. They’re like a blend of a staff meeting and hangout. “Anybody can come to sessions and change the trajectory of the festival,” Brawley notes. For instance, Cucalorus always has quirky names for their shorts blocks, so within the next couple of main-brain sessions, they’ll dish out and hear ideas for 2019’s theme for the blocks.

Along with volunteering, Cucalorus runs on donations. The most important way for people to support the festival is to become a backer on Kickstarter or buy passes for the November event, now available at

“If you’ve never been to Cucalorus before, my suggestion would be to block out an entire day to experience everything our festival has to offer,” Brawley recommends. “You can forget about the laundry and have your mind blown by filmmakers.”

Cucalorus is holding a 25th-anniversary Launch Party at Wrightsville Manor on July 17. They will have a taco bar, beer from Wrightsville Beach Brewery and rum cocktails. Plus, they’ll premiere their Kickstarter video.

“We’ll play a dozen short films from the past 25 years that have become iconic to Cucalorus’ history,” Brawley adds. “Also, we’ll hear from a couple of our board members about how Cucalorus has changed over the years.”

For various monetary pledges, donors can receive gifts on Kickstarter, ranging from art pieces to vintage posters, t-shirts to bottle sweaters. Art includes original prints from Brooklyn artist Hillary Campbell, a cartoonist regularly in the New Yorker (which was part of the 2018 Cucalorus art show, hosted by encore, at Coworx last November). Campbell also published “Breaking Up is Hard To Do… But You Could’ve Done Better,” wherein she chronicles the hilarity of breakups in comic form.

Kickstarter pledges can be made at the party, with funds going toward organizing the 2019 festival in November.

Cucalorus Campaign Launch Party
July 17, 6-8 p.m.
Wrightsville Manor
1952 Allens Lane
Free but register:

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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