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Top 10 Festival Picks from the Executive Director

Over the last two weeks we enlisted the help of some of Calgary's finest curators to bring you Top 10 lists that offered bite-sized looks at the 2017 Calgary International Film Festival. We finish off with one final list from the festival's Executive Director, Steve Schroeder.

In Steve's word's: "A top ten list of “the best” films always eludes me. In fact, I’ve come to see it as an impossibility. Firstly, there are far too many films I absolutely love at the festival to ever narrow a list down to ten, let alone rank such a list. More to the point, though, these things are highly subjective, and depend not only on my taste, but also what I know of the taste and mood of the person to whom I am giving the recommendation. The “must see” list that I give you will inevitably and invariably be different for each person who asks. At a film festival where we celebrate a multiplicity of voices, perspectives, stories and experiences, that’s a good thing.

"But if I’m not going to try to be so crude and simplistic as to try to give you “the best”, I can certainly tell you what I think are just some of the most remarkable pieces of programming in this year’s Calgary International Film Festival. Again, this list could have looked different, and there are many more things – equally remarkable – that I would like to tell you about. But my instructions were clear to pick 10, so here we go."

If any of these screenings pique your interest, do not hesitate! Head to calgaryfilm.com/films or click the links below to grab your tickets before they sell out.

1. EMO THE MUSICAL

Maybe you’re not sure what an emo is. That’s okay. I’ve always found it confusing too, and the definition shifts. For our purposes here we’re talking black clad pop-punk rockers sporting eyeliner, tight pants, and morbidly wry attitudes. Fashion statements aside, though, the downtrodden, alternative-minded outsider is as universally recognizable and relatable as ever. The Hollywood Reporter’s assessment as “Just so damn likeable” is a gross understatement. Hands down one of the best and most entertaining films ever in the “high school sucks” genre. 

A huge part of the film’s charm is that it holds no subject too sacred to send up, from bullying to religion, suicide, teen pregnancy and gay conversion therapy. Teens especially will revel in its unsentimental and irreverent take on high school. Note to haters of musicals: every one of you who sees this movie loves it.

2. SUCK IT UP

This story of two grieving young women’s road trip to the cabin in Invermere is filled with heart and is transcendently entertaining. The two women who co-star (Calgary born and raised Erin Carter and Grace Glowicki) also initiated the project, created the story and executive produced. Director Jordan Canning brings wonderful freshness, clarity humour and authenticity to this picture. If all that isn’t enough, SUCK IT UP has perhaps my favourite soundtrack of the festival.

3. THE SQUARE

Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s uniquely memorable comedy-drama FORCE MAJEURE, about a husband who abandons his wife and family to an avalanche to save his own skin during a ski vacation, is still talked about by those who saw it at the 2014 Calgary International Film Festival. His highly anticipated follow-up, THE SQUARE won the 2017 Palme d’Or at Cannes, and is simply one of the must-sees at Calgary Film this year. The film is a satirical and surreal comedy-drama about the publicity surrounding an art installation, and the gallery curator whose world view is shaken when his mobile phone is stolen. THE SQUARE has been selected as Sweden’s entry into the Best Foreign Language category for the 90th Academy Awards. Keep your eye on it!

4. BEHIND THE SCREEN: THIS SOUNDS AMAZING! WITH CHRISTOPHE BECK

Part of the Behind the Screen series this is the perfect accompaniment to the excellent SCORE: A FILM MUSIC DOCUMENTARY. Christophe Beck won an Emmy for his work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV), and has composed the film scores for such little known pictures as THE HANGOVER, THE MUPPETS MOST WANTED, ANT MAN and FROZEN. Oh, he also lived in Calgary in the '80s, rocked the Elboya Jr. High gymnasium with his band Chris and the Cupcakes, and was instrumental in getting my 10-year-old self into X-Men comics, being the old brother of my best friend in elementary, Jay Jay (Chilly Gonzales). Small world! 

Hosted by Calgary’s own composer extraordinaire Mike Shields, the panel also features directors/composers from Calgary Film 2017 official selections EMO THE MUSICAL, EVERFALL, ICE BLUE and LIVING PROOF.

5. MARJORIE PRIME

From HER to EX MACHINA, these days our culture is exploring how our views of ourselves, our relationships, and our very sense of reality will be impacted by the impending arrival of artificially intelligent facsimiles of humans via near-future speculative sci-fi. I for one am encouraged and gratified that the explorations have been so thoughtful and insightful so far, on the levels of both the head and heart. Intimate yet ambitious in the scope of its societal implications, MARJORIE PRIME’s story of a widow’s relationship with the holographic AI of a younger version of her deceased husband is outstandingly acted and emotionally resonant. Starring Tim Robbins, Jon Hamm, Geena Davis and Lois Smith as Marjorie.

6. PYEWACKET

Through understated performances, extremely effective mood creation, and an almost total avoidance of horror movie gimmicks, PYEWACKET is both genuinely frightening and has an emotional depth rare in the genre. Nicole Muñoz as the quiet, awkward and angst-ridden Leah gives one of my favourite performances of the festival. She is definitely one of our younger Canadian talents to watch. You can also catch her in another Calgary Film 2017 official selection, the outstanding GREGOIRE.

7. LA LA LAND WITH LIVE SCORE BY THE CALGARY PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA

Right from its incredible opening freeway scene, which proudly proclaims “This is a musical!” it is resoundingly apparent that LA LA LAND is a big film. And how much bigger can you get than experiencing it with the score performed live by a philharmonic orchestra? There’s no experience quite like watching a movie with over 1,500 people, especially one as entertaining as LA LA LAND. 

Fun fact: director Damien Chazelle has immediate family right here in Calgary. Small world! The Calgary International Film Festival brought Damien and his first feature film, GUY & MADELAINE ON A PARK BENCH here for the 2009 edition. Look at him now.

8. THE MISANDRISTS

Outlandish yet deadpan, this movie from Canada’s inimitable Bruce LaBruce is not for everyone, let’s just make that clear. But if over the top dark humour and depraved fun with gender politics are your thing, fill your kinky boots. This film contains one of the most shocking and perhaps downright horrifying scenes I have ever encountered. You will not forget it, ever.

9. THE FLORIDA PROJECT

Set during a Florida summer, the story follows a precocious six-year-old girl, Moonee, her friends living in an extended-stay motel community, and the adults around them, all existing on the economic fringes of The Sunshine State. The film’s title refers to an early working name for Walt Disney World, near which the film is set while it was under development. Starring Willem Dafoe and Brooklynn Kimberly Prince as Moonee, expect this to be one of the most critically acclaimed films of the season. It is quite simply a major must-see at this year’s festival, screening for one night only.

10. WALL

A truly masterful work from Calgary’s own Cam Christiansen, this feature-length animated documentary was several years in the making. Christiansen’s animations are visually captivating beyond what an audience might typically expect in a political documentary, and lend (paradoxically) both an objective distance and remarkable intimacy to the subject. The wait was worth it.

Written and narrated by Sir David Hare, who will be in attendance for the world premiere screening on Monday, September 25, WALL is a deep meditation on both the political and human sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the 708 km “security fence” that has come to symbolize it. 

Hare, one of the world’s greatest living playwrights, is also no stranger to film, having received two Oscar nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay for THE HOURS (2002) and THE READER (2008). You can also catch him on Sunday, September 24 for the free event, In Conversation With David Hare, part of the festival’s Behind the Screen series.

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Other films I'm especially excited about: A DAY, everything in the BEST OF SHORTS package, BRIMSTONE & GLORY, CLAIRE’S CAMERA, GREGOIRE, HUMAN FLOW, ICE BLUE, INDIAN HORSE, MADE IN VIETNAM, MR.ROOSEVELT, SIGNATURE MOVE, SMALL TOWN CRIME, STRAD STYLE, WESTERN, WHEN THEY AWAKE.

All tickets on sale now at calgaryfilm.com