Saturday, September 30, 2023

Japanese thriller, female filmmakers among Cucalorus highlights

John Goldschmidt's zany and touching "Dough" is among nearly 300 films featured in this year's Cucalorus. Photos courtesy Cucalorus.
John Goldschmidt’s zany and touching ‘Dough’ is among nearly 300 films featured in this year’s Cucalorus. Photos courtesy Cucalorus.

What began as a one-night movie marathon at a downtown eatery has grown into a weeklong celebration of film–and now business– that brings in directors, actors, speakers and audiences from across the globe.

The 21st annual Cucalorus, which kicked off Tuesday and runs through Sunday, has its roots in a filmmaking collective called Twinkle Doon. In 1994, the group started getting together once a year to screen a few independent movies at the former Water Street Restaurant, and the festival as we now know it was born.

Its slow but consistent rise came from shining a spotlight on showcasing established and emerging talents, organizer Dan Brawley said, with an eye on the world at large but a focus on North Carolina artists.

The fest, which annually attracts crowds of more than 10,000, is following up two decades on the scene with another milestone this year–Cucalorus Connect.

The documentary, 'Welcome to Leith,' explores the struggle of a small town against its new neighbor, a notorious white supremacist.
The documentary, ‘Welcome to Leith,’ explores the struggle of a small town against its new neighbor, a notorious white supremacist.

A bit like the longstanding South by Southwest in Austin, Texas–and a lot like CIE’s inaugural Coastal Connect Entrepreneur and Capital Conference, which was held in September–Cucalorus Connect is aimed at bringing together entrepreneurs and leaders in a variety of fields to network and share ideas among themselves and with the public.

This year’s event also features nearly 300 films in a variety of formats and genres–from two heart-wrenching short documentaries that incorporate virtual reality to a whimsically raunchy romantic comedy starring a stand-up comedian and so much more in between.

Individual tickets are $10 each and can be purchased at venue box offices. Movies are screening at Thalian Hall, Cape Fear Community College’s Union Station, Jengo’s Playhouse and City Stage Theater. More information about advance tickets and festival passes is available here.

Here’s a glimpse at just some of what is screening today:

  • “Dough” (1 p.m., Thalian main stage)–this feature film tells the story of a surly Kosher bakery owner in London’s East End and his unlikely business partner, a Muslim teenager. As he continues to lose customers and big box stores encroach, the owner reluctantly enlists the help of Ayyash who has a secret side gig selling marijuana to help his struggling immigrant mother make ends meet. When Ayyash accidentally drops some of his “product” into the mixing dough, the challah becomes sought after, and a unique bond develops between the old Jewish baker and his young Muslim apprentice. See the trailer here.


  • “Welcome to Leith” (4 p.m., Thalian Black)–In this documentary, cinematographer Michael Beach Nichols and crew follow the story of the tiny town of Leith, North Dakota, which saw its population of 24 grow by one in 2012. That addition was white supermacist Craig Cobb, who planned to take over the town government and establish Cobbsville, a haven for white separatists. As his behavior becomes more threatening the residents desperately look for ways to get rid of their new neighbor. The film explores how we wrestle with our own democratic ideals when they’re put to the test and pushed to the limit. Click here to watch the trailer.


  • “Hot Paper Lanterns Shorts (she what?)” (7:15 p.m., City Stage Theater)–this block of eight short movies, celebrating female filmmakers, runs the gamut from a dance piece inspired by a Lewis Carroll poem to the sci-fi story of a reptile thief and her conflicted loyalty between two partners in crime.


  • “TAG” (10 p.m., Thalian main stage)–This Japanese horror thriller takes a dark exploration into the fine lines between reality and dream. A bus full of high school girls on the way to a field trip are hit with a sudden gust of wind that slices the bus in half, length-wise, killing all but one girl, Mitsuko. The wind turns back around to Mitsuko, though, and she runs for her life only to find herself walking to school with her classmates. Were the deaths a tragedy or the stuff of nightmares? Watch the trailer here.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at

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