The Calgary Underground Film Festival (CUFF), known for showing cutting-edge films that push the audience’s boundaries with controversial themes, is running April 16-22 at the Globe Theatre for  its 15th year.

Program director Cam Macgowan says the festival has caught flak over some films in past years.

“Sometimes we showcase films that are like gross and uncomfortable and people aren’t expecting that, and it challenges them in a bad way.”

However,  Macgowan says that underground films are a necessary part of contemporary society because they are an important medium for everyone’s voice.

“Distinct voices aren’t encouraged in Hollywood cinema or Netflix-type films, and so underground films are where you really get to gain an understanding or empathy for people who are not.”

Macgowan, who has been with the festival for the past seven years, says that he has seen audiences expand over that time, as people have become more trusting of what the festival has to offer.

Photo 1.Cam Mac copy copyCam Macgowan, CUFF’s program director, says it takes all year to select films for the festival. Macgowan and his team travel to many film festivals to gather the best underground films. Photo by Peter Brand.

“I’ve just noticed more folks coming out for the more obscure films over the last few years.”

Macgowan hopes to see a continued increase of people who live outside of Calgary attending the festival too.

The risks and rewards of underground films

Macgowan, a filmmaker himself, says that most artists spend all their money on their projects, so the festival serves as an important platform for them to market and show off their talent.

“With it comes more recognition for your film that you wouldn’t otherwise have. It’s something to celebrate for your film but it’s also something to help market your film to let people know that you’re a serious artist whose work is on display.”

Lee Easton is a film studies professor at Mount Royal University. Easton stresses that underground films are an important scene in Calgary, which gives people of all ages a chance to experience something that they won’t find at the Cineplex Odeon.

Photo 3 Lee eastonProfessor Lee Easton teaches film studies, comics, and graphic novels at MRU. He says the challenge around something like an underground film festival is finding an audience. 

“I think it’s important to always have space or spaces that are outside of the mainstream that present alternative perspectives and that challenge accepted ideas and conventions about how things ought to be.”

However, Easton worries people on the far right of the spectrum could potentially be making films that would damage the ideals of the festival.

Other films that can damage viewers’ boundaries deal in racist or gratuitously graphic content.

Last year the festival kicked off with a film by James Buddy Day called Manson: The Final Words. The film, featuring phone calls to Day from Charles Manson in prison, is narrated by horror filmmaker Rob Zombie.  

Jacey Magnussen, 28, is a sociology major at Mount Royal University who takes in underground and mainstream films. She says films like Manson: The Final Words might create the wrong kind of attention for the festival.

Photo 2. JCJacey Magnussen is a Mount Royal University student majoring in sociology. She says that underground films offer alternative viewpoints and interesting topics, and they pose as an opportunity for filmmakers to not be censored through mainstream media. Photo courtesy of Jacey Magnussen.

“It’s just promoting the words of a racist man who was a cult leader and a rapist, so maybe his words should be censored so people stop idolizing and romanticizing Manson, and judging from the trailer, this film will likely increase the obsession with Manson.”

Although the festival isn’t just a safe haven for provocative and edgy films, there is something for every taste.

“It’s just nice to have a festival that celebrates the strange movies where the weirdos and freaks can gather to enjoy these movies together and remind themselves that the city’s not just urban sprawl, meat, alcohol and congested roadways with truck nuts,” says Macgowan.

The movie line-up for this year’s CUFF can be seen on their website here.

Editor: Omar Subhi Omar |

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