Calgary International Film Festival: What to See and Do


Calgary, Travel / Monday, September 16th, 2019
Reading Time: 6 minutes

The Calgary International Film Festival takes place this year between September 18 and 29th. If you’re planning to attend (or even thinking about attending) this year’s festival, here’s my top picks for what to do and see.

The Toronto International Film Festival has come and gone, and it’s time for all of the glitz and glamour of Eastern Canada to take a hike because Calgary’s up. 

While Calgary isn’t Toronto, Los Angeles or Vancouver, we really do love our film. The 20th Calgary International Film Festival is a 12-day celebration of international film that takes place in two great theatres in our downtown core, Eau Claire Cineplex and The Globe Theatre.

What started as a small six-day festival in 2000 that saw 8,000 visitors, is today a booming almost two-week celebration that saw over 38,000 people in 2018. That growth in numbers means CIFF has the ability to curate some amazing films from around the world. And, what you might not know, is that it’s an Oscar-qualifying festival for short films, which means your vote really does count.

If you’re a film lover, or even if you just enjoy seeing the odd film or two and are looking to maybe take in something new (you definitely should), then the Calgary International Film Festival is the place for you to be sometime in the next few weeks (or multiple times if you’re me). 

Join me thousands of other film fans and come see some awesome pieces of hard work and art, celebrate the arts in Calgary and simply have a good time (with a bucket of popcorn)!

Not sure what to see and do at the festival? No problem, I’ve got you covered. Here’s my ultimate festival guide:

Must-see films at the Calgary International Film Festival

The Calgary International Film Festival is all about the on-screen presentation. If you’re looking to experience a great film and aren’t sure which of the amazing films to pick, here are five of my favorite selections:

Blood Quantum for blood, guts, glory & zombies

Synopsis: The dead, both animals and people alike, are coming back to life around the world, but strangely the indigenous inhabitants of a Mi’gmaq reserve are immune. When the world starts to go awry, those immune need to decide whether they should help or stay away!

I am excited to see a lot of films at this year’s festival, but my top pick is Canadian director Jeff Barnaby’s Blood Quantum. Now, this film doesn’t have a trailer listed, but I embedded the video from BoxOfficeBuz so you can wet your whistle. 

Blood Quantum is part of the film’s late-night series, and if your down for some zombie killing action by actors Michael Greyeyes, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Forrest Goodluck and Kiowa Gordon, then you should probably snatch up some tickets before they sell out. This film is “sure to be a late-night cult hit” according to the festival and I, for one, CANNOT WAIT to see it.

SEE IT September 23 at 7 pm or September 29 at 7:30 pm

American Woman for a past look at modern life

Synopsis: American Woman is based on the Patty Hearst affair and follows Jenny a member of a radical group trying to get the United States out of Vietnam when she befriends Hearst.

American Woman has a lot of great things going for it, but top of my list is that it was written and directed by Calgary’s own Semi Chellas. If supporting a local female filmmaker and seeing a great film is on your list, then this is the one!

Part of the Canadian Cinema series, this period drama set in the 1970s is sure to take you back in time while challenging you to look at today’s world for similarities. For a strong female lead and a political tale, check out American Woman.

SEE IT September 22 at 8 pm or September 24 at 5:30 pm. If you’d like to hear Chellas answer questions or ask a question of your own, you’ll want to be in attendance at the September 22 showing.

Green Grass for a dystopian tale

Synopsis: Take a walk through suburbia where people are strangely nice and wear braces, and follow the passive-aggressive battle of soccer-mom best friends Jill and Lisa in their truly bizzaro world. 

I am a HUGE fan of dystopian tales and cannot wait to watch what seems like a truly bizarre story of middle-class fancy, braces and real-life dog moms. Greener Grass is a strange comedy that marries an almost unimaginable world with even more unlikely characters.

By and starring Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe, this film made it into Sundance and SXSW. It looks like a truly awesome way to get away for the night and pretend that this world isn’t so bad because it’s not that one

SEE IT September 27 at 10 pm or September 29 at 2:15 pm.

Before You Know It for a family worse than yours

Synopsis: This family that’s definitely more dysfunctional than yours is just trying to figure things out when sisters Rachel and Jackie (who live in an apartment with their dad above a theatre owned by their family) find out their mom who they assumed was dead is alive and well.

Every once in a while, we need a good reminder that there’s a family out there, real or fiction, that’s more dysfunctional than ours. Enter: Before You Know It

Co-written and directed by star Hannah Pearl Utt, this comedic film lands you in the centre of hilarious family drama. Featuring faces you might recognize like Alec Baldwin and Mandy Patinkin.

SEE IT September 26 at 6:30 pm or September 29 at 2:15 pm.

Denmark for a reminder that life does count 

Synopsis: Herb’s life is an utter mess, so he decides a Danish prison will be a step up. But along the way, he meets a few people who make his life seem meaningful.

Denmark is what I would describe as a feel-good flick. Everyone needs to see one every once in a while as a reminder that no matter how bad it is, there might be a turning point right around the corner. 

Adrian Shergold directs this comedic drama about a man, Herb, who decided’s there’s a fate better than his current life: Danish prison. It looks like a light-hearted comedy with some real meaning behind and I will most definitely be running to catch a showing.SEE IT September 26 at 9:30 pm or September 29 at 6 pm. It’s listed as having a guest in attendance for one of the showings, but unfortunately, it doesn’t disclose which one.

Want to see something else? Check out the festival’s full schedule.

Must-attend events

The Calgary International Film Festival isn’t all about the on-screen experience, there are some very real in-person events that you should definitely consider adding to your schedule. 

Whether you want to learn more about the local industry, check out the opening or closing gala or hear industry insiders talk about creating amazing flicks, there’s something out there for everyone. 

Not sure what to check out? Here’s what I recommend:

BTS X Film Expo

The BTS X Film Expo is a chance for you to learn about both the Alberta film industry, and the film industry as a whole. From the jobs and skills involved to a chance to meet some of the faces behind the work, this is a great opportunity for you to learn about how the magic happens.

Who’s going to be at the Calgary Film Expo? According to the CIFF website, the following are confirmed:

  • IATSE Local 212
  • ACTRA Alberta
  • Keep Alberta Rolling
  • Film and Video Arts Society of Alberta (FAVA)
  • AUARTS

The Film Expo takes place at the Central Library from 12 to 5 pm on Sunday, September 29. It’s a free event open to the public and you do not need to have a ticket to go, so definitely stop by!

BTS X In Conversation With Jason Reitman

BTS X In Conversation With Jason Reitman is an up-close-and-personal chat with award-winning Canadian producer and director Jason Reitman.

Reitman is currently in Calgary filming the latest instalment of the Ghostbuster’s franchise and will be stopping by the Calgary International Film Festival on September 25 at 5:30 pm to have a conversation with CTV’s Tara Nelson about his career.

This event is no-to-be-missed for film fans. And if you purchase a ticket for this event, you’ll also get free admission to the throwback screening of Reitman’s film Up in the Air screening at 3 pm on the same day.

BTS X Women Making Movies

Calling all female filmmakers, BTS X Women Making Movies is a behind the screen event that you won’t want to miss at the Calgary International Film Festival this year. This talk is all about the ladies of filmmaking, where we are today and where we need to be.

Who’s speaking on the panel? I’m glad you asked! According to their website you’ll get a chance to see:

  • Donna Brunsdale – Writer/Technician (WAYDOWNTOWN)
  • Carolyn McMaster – Producer (ROOT OF THE PROBLEM)
  • Ingrid Vargas – Filmmaker (ALL SAINTS)
  • Heather Young – Writer/Director (MURMUR)

This chat takes place September 25 at 5:30 pm, so RSVP now before the event fills up!

BTS X Micro-Budget Filmmaking

Filmmakers of all sorts will want to check out BTS X Micro-Budget Filmmaking, where writer, director and producer of What We Don’t Say, Matt Ralston, will be talking all things small budget filmmaking.

From the initial idea to the festival circuit, Ralston talks about what it takes to make a film and how you don’t need a ton of money to do it.

This event takes place on September 27 at 5:30 pm. Get your spot now!

Attending the Calgary International Film Festival

The Calgary International Film Festival starts this coming Wednesday, September 18, and is sure to be a wild ride. They’re showing films from all around the world for any kind of film fan. 

If you love film, you want to support the local industry and you want to come out and have some fun, then this is the place to be. So come and hang out, I know I’ll be there.

I’ll be posting all week about my daily top picks for what to do and what to see, so check back here if you can’t decide what to attend next!

What are you dying to see at this year’s Calgary International Film Festival? Share your top picks in the comments below!

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