It’s baaacccck! Christmas arrives early in Wilmington every year around the second week in November when Cucalorus takes place over five days. Slated for November 7-11 across 11 venues (Thalian Hall, CFCC Union Station, CFCC Daniels Hall, Jengo’s Playhouse, Bourgie Nights, Blind Elephant, Hell’s Kitchen, Dead Crow Comedy Room, TheatreNOW, and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot), encore’s entire edition will feature coverage on multiple films, stage shows and other ways to enjoy the festival.
2016 began the evolution of Cucalorus moving beyond a film fest and into an all-encompassing convergence of creativity through film, music, dance, and performance art, as well as tech and entrepreneurial conferences. 2017 saw its rebranding from Cucalorus Film Festival into Cucalorus Festival. 2018 is growing beyond a three-pronged effort in Film, Stage and Connect to become a quadruped of sorts, with the addition of music. And it all kicks off November 7 at Brooklyn Arts Center with a concert from NC’s own Superchunk.
We shot over some questions to chief instigating officer Dan Brawley, who’s overseen Cucalorus for most of the last two decades. A lot of brainpower and sweat equity gets put into the festival annually. Now upon its ever-changing faces, Brawley is more excited than ever to share with us what’s upcoming in Cucalorus Land.
encore (e): What’s new in Cucalorus 24?
Dan Brawley (DB): Cucalorus shifts and moves every year. Last year the big news was our rebrand as the Cucalorus Festival with Film, Stage and Connect as the three main programs. That conceptual shift, really a reorganizing of our existing programs, allowed our audiences to understand the festival schedule in a new way. So I think first and foremost, we’re excited to see how this new structure works in year two.
The big changes this year are a bit more practical and tactical. We’ve made some changes to the layout of the festival—expanding a bit to the northside of downtown and moving some critical functions down to Front Street. So this year the ticket box and the filmmakers’ lounge will be at Union Station on Cape Fear Community College’s campus. We’re calling some of these changes our “growing pleasures.”
Thalian Hall is still the home of our biggest hits. The top films in the festival and a few more theatre shows from Stage, like Anna Stromberg’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (pgs. 20-21) will show there on Saturday night.
e: Tell us about the evolution we’ve seen in the past three years and what we can expect moving forward? What does Cucalorus look like when it turns 30?
DB: With all the chaos in our community following Hurricane Florence, right now we’re really focused on celebrating our city—and hoping the festival is a chance to heal some of those tears and bruises by coming together. So maybe more than usual, we’re trying to stay in the here and now.
On the other side, we’ll be exploring all the options. I’d like to do more screenings in other parts of New Hanover County, especially at UNCW. We’re screening three films at the Cameron Art Museum on Sunday this year, including “Don’t Get Trouble on Your Mind” about the Carolina Chocolate Drops—which will be followed later in the afternoon by a performance by Rhiannon Giddens at Thalian (see pgs 6-7). So we’re trying to reach out to other places within the community to make the festival more accessible. We think the festival offers so many amazing chances to share and explore and so we are looking for ways to open the doors to new people.
e: Let’s get down the numbers: how many…
Somewhere between 21 and 23 depending on how you count them!
185 plus the 10 shorts from the 10×10 Challenge, so probably close to 200 in the end.
18 plus four films in our WiP Lab.
Local filmmakers represented?
About 30 percent of the films in the festival have a local connection. We’re always looking for new ways to support and champion local filmmakers. It doesn’t mean everyone in Wilmington gets into the festival—we had hundreds of local submissions, but this is one of the most important Cucalorus values. We want to grow from our base, and that is and always will be here in coastal NC. The blend of hyper-local programming and international works is part of the magic sauce that makes Cucalorus sparkle.
Zoinks. Maybe 40 total? We have tons of great co-productions (several shows at Kenan Auditorium and even with the Wilmington Symphony) and then the standards like Dance-a-lorus and the Bus To Lumberton (pg. 16). There are all sorts of new shows, too, like Bryan Putnam’s preview of “Toymaker” and the fringe-style showcase at the “Visual/Sound/Walls” lounge (pgs. 10-11).
Don’t miss the show “Ike Once More.”
Stage is like the gooey center of the festival experience where everyone ends up after the amazing keynote or the heartbreaking documentary to figure it all out, laugh a bit and grab a Cuctail.
Shhh. There are other events, some are easier to find than others. Cuctails is over there… No, over here…
We couldn’t do it without an incredible group of returning and new volunteers. I’m always amazed at the generosity people bring to the festival by donating their time. You can sign up until Sunday to work a shift!
Tickets/passes sold so far?
We’re about 30 percent of the way to our goal for this year. The box office campaign is more important than ever for us as Florence wiped out our annual fundraising campaign, so we’re working hard to sell tickets and passes. We also have a new ticketing system that should make the experience much smoother and more enjoyable for folks.
People expected to attend?
Who? Knows! So many things impact final attendance, but by all counts it looks like another great year. Stage is really stacked with tons of good stuff. Those shows are already the hottest tickets on the schedule. The Stage pass might be the best deal going, too—one price for up to 30 shows or something like that!
e: What social-justice, political, religious or other topics are you guys covering that are top of mind currently and how will they be presented at Cucalorus?
DB: Justice around food and race really hit us hard this year. We have a handful of films about food, including our Saturday night feature doc called “The Biggest Little Farm.” It’s about a couple who get evicted from their LA apartment because of their barking dog and decide to start a traditional farm in the California countryside. It’s one of the most uplifting films I’ve seen in years. We’ll also be hosting a forum during Connect to talk about food justice issues here in our community.
There are a number of films that touch on racial justice issues on the schedule, including “Tre Maison Dasan,” “While I Breathe I Hope” and “United Skates.” I would encourage people, especially white people, to mark these films on their calendars, and watch and listen and listen some more. We’ve got a lot of work to do in our culture to uproot the deeply ingrained systemic oppressions we see manifesting around us. These films give great insight into how systemic issues pop up in real life. You can see these patterns in other films, too, like “Warrior Women,” which headlined our new Lumbee Film Festival showcasing films by American Indians in June.
And of course, 50 percent of the films at Cucalorus are by women. We’re proud to have reached gender equity in an industry that keeps making promises about some distant future where it is possible. It is possible now and we think there should be more pressure from all sides to make equity a reality.
If you want to hear more about gender equity in the film industry, check out Tom Donahue’s star-studded and fact-filled doc “This Changes Everything” about how bad it is for women in the studio system. If that doesn’t get you fired up, come see the incredibly touching stories found in the doc “Transmilitary.” I’m usually good for a cry at the end of a film, but I cried from start to finish on this one. Even if you think you understand trans-issues, this doc will expand your way of thinking.
e: What do you expect to be the funniest event to enjoy? One with the most levity to give us a reprieve from the hard-hitting stuff?
DB: “St. Bernard Syndicate”: Danish provocateur Mads Brügger brought his doc “The Red Chapel” to Cucalorus nearly 10 years ago. He’s back! Follow along as two clueless American businessmen try to sell puppies to the Chinese middle class. And as a special treat, Mads will be at the festival to answer questions. (See review pgs 22-23.)
e: Who at Connect are you most excited about hearing talk and why? How did you curate these topics this year and gather your panels; tell us a little about that process.
DB: Our keynote speakers are Susan Ellis from SAS and Charlie Fink, a futurist and Forbes columnist who has been working in and around the film industry for years. I’m really excited to get a glimpse into the future of storytelling. That really is at the heart of Connect: How do technology and an increasing ability to connect with each other expand our abilities and enhance our humanity. The Connect schedule is incredible and hopefully the tracks speak for themselves with GigTech, FinTech, HealthTech, Startups, and The Community Brew (social entrepreneurship with a special nod to breweries).
e: What’s been most surprising for you to see in launching Connect? What do you foresee it to look like in a few years?
DB: I’m still as stoked as I was five years ago when we first started talking about Connect. I think we have a programming framework with the five tracks that really makes sense and gives us something to build on. This year’s conference is packed with great speakers. So it doesn’t matter if you’re a technologist or an innovator launching a new business, these sessions give you a chance to stay tuned into the latest updates from finance, health care, big data and even the nature of work itself.
e: What was the financial impact on our community from Cuc in 2017?
DB: We didn’t do a formal study last year. But we know from an informal study we conducted 10 years ago the number is in the millions. To me, the most important impacts aren’t tangible though. It’s about that Irish filmmaker telling his friends in Dublin about this great little port city in North Carolina, just minutes from the ocean. And then that guy’s cousin opens a business here three years later. So, underneath all the hotel rooms and the restaurant tabs, there is a growing network of people who are sharing Wilmington’s story around the world.