8 questions answered about 2021’s Cucalorus Film Festival

Cucalorus executive director Dan Brawley welcomes audiences to a screening at Thalian Hall during Cucalorus. (Port City Daliy/Courtesy photo)

WILMINGTON — Films, live performances, important conversations — they’re all on deck for Wilmington’s 27th annual independent film festival, which will resume as an in-person event this November.

RELATED: Read more film coverage from Port City Daily

The five-day Cucalorus Film Festival is slated to take place Nov. 10-14, celebrating 27 years reverencing the art of independent cinema. The last time guests and filmmakers met face-to-face was in 2019 when Cucalorus broke attendance numbers, welcoming up to 21,000 people. The pandemic stalled the gathering in full-force in 2020, and left Cucalorus to launch the festival virtually, while also offering a few weekends of drive-in movies.


Executive director Dan Brawley told Port City Daily last fall, though the pandemic may have kept creatives at a distance from each other, it provided a reset button for the festival itself. 

“We spent five or six years in experimental mode, and this year we explored our values,” Brawley said then. “We had to hunker down, close in and reflect.”

Now, Cucalorus will re-emerge a bit changed, recharged and … inoculated. Here are 8 questions Brawley answered to get attendees prepared in advance of November’s event.

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1. Will the festival require attendees to show a vaccination card?

Yep. 

Cucalorus is keeping its eyes on convening in person while considering the health of its attendees. Thus, all ticket and passholders in 2021 will need to prove they have been vaccinated in order to gain in-person entry into the festival. A Covid-19 wristband station will be set up for folks to flash their vaccination cards. 

“We’re hoping to provide a mobile vaccination station, as well as a testing station,” Brawley said.

Details are still being worked out by the board and festival staff, as is the minutia of its Covid-19 protocols. Brawley said Cucalorus wanted to get the word out about the vaccine requirement to give people ample time to get their shot(s) ahead of November. 

It decided to require vaccinations after researching how other festivals handled relaunching. From the Sidewalk Film Festival in Alabama to Utah’s mecca Sundance, most upheld similar policies and requirements Cucalorus has adopted. 

“Our board feels strongly that storytelling is vital to human health and that in this traumatic time it is more important than ever that we are able to come together to heal and be inspired,” he said. “We want to be able to do this in a way that is healthy and safe.”

Brawley said the festival continues to follow national, regional and local Covid-19 data and will continuously update followers on changes within its infrastructure as the date gets closer.

2. But what if prospective attendees don’t have a vaccine? Can they still participate in some way?

Brawley said, most likely.

Cucalorus is looking at hosting online screenings for people who choose to remain unvaccinated. What it will entail exactly is still being hashed out.

“We’re working on building an accessible festival for everyone,” Brawley assured.

3. How many films will Cucalorus screen in 2021?

Over 100 — 126 to be exact. Cucalorus will be programmed from early morning to late, late night, showing shorts and features, comedies, documentaries and dramas alike. Some will be locally made, others regionally, others internationally.

There will be 11 shorts blocks, including horror, dance and animation, among other genres. 

There will be 20 narrative features, including three Canadian films. Eighteen films were made by Wilmingtonians and over 30 North Carolina filmmakers will be featured. 

“There’s so much good stuff,” Brawley said. 

The festival will include the U.S. premiere of UNCW professor Georg Koszulinski’s “These Sight-Altering Spells Sometimes Speak.” As well, UNCW and UNCW School of the Arts filmmakers will have works included.

Brawley called many of the features “truly original,” some even “super weird.” He described “Le bruit des moteurs/The noise of engines” as a wild ride, with the flick following a young firearms instructor who, according to his unqualified supervisor, diagnoses him with “sexual perversions” and puts him on leave. 

“He teams up with a female drag racer as they try to evade the cops who are looking for the creator of some sexual cartoons that have been placed on the door of a local church,” Brawley described.

4. Will there be live performances? 

Cucalorus has changed what used to be called its “Stage” segment to “Performances.” While the Wednesday-night kickoff always entailed Dance-a-lorus, as well as a live concert and music videos screened as part of Visual/Sound/Walls, this year things have been spread out a little more.

First, Dance-a-lorus has moved to Sunday afternoon. It will take place at 4 p.m. and still will feature multitudes of choreographers and dancers who have been paired up with local filmmakers to present a multimedia experience for audiences.

There will be a kickoff party at Hi-Wire Brewing Wednesday, Nov. 10, held across the street from Jengo’s Playhouse, Cucalorus’ headquarters. Music will be played by Lotus Sun, and there will be more concerts dispersed throughout the five-day festival. 

“Hi-Wire is big enough for some serious social distancing and has a great outdoor space,” Brawley said. 

Plus, all festival events at Hi-Wire — including Charly Lowry confirmed for Thursday, Nov. 11 — will be free and open to the public. 

Also taking place Thursday, Nov. 11, Visual/Sound/Walls will launch at Jengo’s Playhouse. Multiple video screens will pop up, “starting sometime late into the night,” according to Brawley, inside and outside of a newly renovated Jengo’s. 

Brawley said a second bathroom has been added on the grounds, which is also handicap accessible. Plus, the 1950’s theater seats have been restored, the lobby expanded, and there is more spacing for seating. A full service bar will be in the back and a new marquee will light up the front.

Jengo’s will host an open-mic poetry and spoken word event at the venue as part of Performances. As normally expected of Cucalorus screenings, MCs will introduce all films with quirky mini performances.

5. Is the Bus to Lumberton still taking place?

Every year Cucalorus celebrates the locally filmed David Lynch classic “Blue Velvet” in some form or fashion. It’s been an art installation, an interactive exhibit and show, and even a 5K, curated by various artists and filmmakers throughout the years.

Racer Trash is a collective of artists taking the reins in 2021. The group of film industry workers started it by happenstance last May while watching films on Twitch. Someone suggested wanted to see “Speed Racer” as a vaporwave cut — slowed, chopped and mashed with smooth jazz or elevator and lounge music. 

A year later the team has taken on various Hollywood blockbusters and reconstrued them as punk-rock artistic mores. They’ll be taking on “Blue Velvet” for Bus to Lumberton.

Plus, Racer Trash is leading the charge for Cucalorus’ Visual/Sound/Walls.

6. How is Connect being handled?

“We’re not doing Connect anymore,” Brawley said. 

Connect was an offshoot of Cucalorus that started six years ago and put a focus on technology, innovation and business. 

Brawley told Port City Daily last year he was looking to rebrand it to become something more fitting with the festival’s foundation — which has always focused on bringing people together to digest pressing issues through the lens of film and art.

Last year, Brawley intentionally shifted the festival away from Connect’s tech and innovation focus to host conversations with participants in regards to race — specifically, social issues facing Black and brown communities across the nation. Moderators guided talks with filmmakers, authors and leaders about youth, activism, police brutality, education, and other areas of interest. 

Brawley said in 2021 Connect has officially become “Conversations.” It will focus again on filmmakers and art makers unpacking highly concerning social issues, including anti-racism.

7. But is it affordable?

“There is no inflation at Cucalorus,” Brawley said. 

In fact, the festival has slashed its all-access passes from $400 to $200. It also has set individual screening and event tickets at a flat rate of $10.

“[We’re] trying to make it accessible for anyone,” Brawley said. “And if cost is an issue but you want to attend, reach out to us and we’ll work it out. Everyone should be able to come to Cucalorus.”

8. What are the venues in 2021?

Venues will include Thalian Hall’s main stage and black box theater upstairs, as well as Cucalorus’ Jengo’s Playhouse, and Hi-Wire Brewing. 

Depending on how UNCW’s Covid-19 policy moves forward — all events have been postponed on campus or moved virtually for now — the film festival is eyeing the film studies building to host more screenings.

“[It] has a lovely cinema,” Brawley said. 

More information will be revealed as planning progresses. 


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