Cucalorus Film Festival History
Cucalorus provides a non-competitive environment to support independent filmmakers, performance artists, and community organizers who use storytelling to transform our world. The festival is held each November in historic downtown Wilmington, North Carolina and showcases more than 125 films complimented by performances from dancers, comedians, musicians, and performance artists.
Twinkle Doon, a group of 12 Wilmington filmmakers, screened 16 short films from North Carolina – dubbed officially as “An Evening of Celluloid Art, a film festival for open minds.” Filmmakers, artists and film enthusiasts lined the streets along the Cape Fear River waiting to enter a packed out Water Street Restaurant for this one night event. Matt Malloy appeared as “the boy who plays guitar.” According to co-founder Kristy Byrd: “There were no prizes or awards. We didn’t want this to be a competition. It’s a showcase for filmmakers not only in the Southeast, but all across the country.”
Building on the success of the initial festival, Cucalorus morphed into a 2-day spring festival. The non-competitive showcase attracted submissions and attendees from all over the Southeast. Films such as Josh and Jonas Pate’s The Grave and John Schultz’s Bandwagon were crowd favorites.
Legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff presented his classic The Red Shoes and North Carolinian Ross McElwee brought his film Six O’Clock News.
Actor and North Carolina native Nick Searcy screened his debut feature Paradise Falls.
Highlights included Snake Tales and Tax Day, from female directors Francesca Talenti and Laura Colella, respectively.
Farhad Yawari’s Dolphins screened outside, along the Cape Fear River, on the deck of the USS North Carolina.
David Gordon Green’s directorial debut George Washington was the undisputed indie film of the year.
Wilmington-made The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, from producer Jodie Foster, was an audience favorite.
Docs ruled the day with Nick Doob’s Schooling Jewel, the street-fighting The Backyard and Chris Smith’s Home Movie.
Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, the East Coast premier of Tricia Brock’s adaptation of Killer Diller, which is based on a novel by Wilmington author Clyde Edgerton, and Ross McElwee’s Bright Leaves were highlights.
Oscar-winning writer Jim Taylor’s directorial debut, The Lost Cause, a narrative short starring Nick Searcy, and Jonathan Caouette’s Tarnation were favorites.
For the first time, Cucalorus opened in early November and the historic Thalian Hall Center became its primary venue.
Screened films Taxi to the Dark Side and Freeheld went on to win Academy Awards for Best Documentary Feature and Best Documentary Short, respectively. The closing night film, In Search of a Midnight Kiss, released in 2008 to critical acclaim.
Erica Dunton presented her film The 27 Club. Marianna Palka and Jason Ritter were here for the screening of their film Good Dick, and the festival closed with a special screening of Wendy and Lucy with Kelly Reichardt on hand.
Record-busting crowds joined artists like Ray McKinnon (That Evening Sun) and Gary Lundgren (Calvin Marshall) for five days of salty celebration as Cucalorus celebrated 15 years of renegade festival making. Four films from the festival went on to receive 10 Oscar noms and no one was seriously injured as far as we know.
More than 200 artists traveled to Wilmington to participate in the annual celebration. Joining filmmakers were dancers, choreographers, spoken word artists, musicians, performance artists and installation artists – as Cucalorus spread its arms to embrace an increasing collection of diverse artists. Luke Matheny joins the family for a screening of God of Love (2011 Academy Award winner for Best Live Action Short). Matt Hulse brought his satchel of seeds and became the King of Cucalorus 2010 by participating in the works-in-progress program, hosting his signature ‘Audible Picture Show’ and presenting the world premier of his short, A Pilgrimage.
The 17th annual Cucalorus Film Festival came to a close on Sunday night, capping off a record year for the events overall attendance and marking the debut of the NC Retrospective program. The festival hosted 297 artists, including filmmakers, dancers, choreographers, poets, musicians, actors, and one mime from 7 different countries around the world and from cities scattered across the country. Accumulated attendance at the festival’s screenings, parties and educational events totaled 10,515.
Top grossing films were Holy Motors, A Royal Affair and Somebody Up There Likes Me. Durham-based filmmaker Jim Haverkamp hosted a standing room only screening of experimental shorts produced during the film festival as part of the Strange Beauty Challenge. Festival staff conducted a closing ceremony described as “the Holy Rite of Communion served by the First National Church of the Exquisite Panic.”
An extended conversation on the stage at Thalian Hall with Shirley Knight and director Gary Lundgren was one of Saturday’s many highlights. Bobcat Goldthwait made his first appearance at the festival with his found footage horror film Willow Creek. The world premiere of Rebecca Kenyon’s doc Something You Can Call Home sold out on Friday night. Toronto based filmmaker Ingrid Veninger’s The Animal Project had its US premier at City Stage.
Force Majeure from Ruben Ostlund and Hide and Seek from Joanna Coates were the top performers. Regional favorite and world premiere NC Sixty, directed by Erica Dunton, graced the Thalian Mainstage.
Cucalorus officially comes of age! The launch of the Connect Conference brought innovators and entrepreneurs together for gatherings all over downtown. Wilmington on Fire by Christopher Everett sold out with a line wrapped around the block. Waffle Street by Eshom and Ian Nelms and Applesauce by Onur Tukel were other favorites.
Cuctails took over the booze scene during the fest, conjuring delicious regional cocktails for us all. Louis Foreman taught us what to do after you’ve thought of a great idea in his keynote Connect speech. Ingrid Jungermann made a return to Wilmington with her queer dark comedy Women Who Kill, and UNCW alum producer Hillary Pierce brought us Tower. A tribute to local camera engineer legend Joe Dunton included films like Oliver!, The Shining and Dance Craze. Vivan Kubrick and steadicam inventor Garrett Brown joined for a livestreamed Q&A!
23andMe? 23andYouAndYouAndYou! Special events included The Eyeslicer Road Show, a mind-melting TV show by former head of film at Kickstarter Jane Schoenbrun. Ricky Kelly’s Black Beach/White Beach: A Tale of Two Beaches (a 2016 Cucalorus Indie Filmmakers Fund grant recipient) was picked up for distribution by Gravitas Ventures following a sold out world premiere screening.
Hurricane Florence couldn’t rain on THIS parade. A little over a month after one of the most destructive hurricanes in our port city’s history raged through Wilmington, Cucalorus 24 brought collective joy, societal mindfulness, and a raucous good time to a community in recovery. Indie legends Superchunk kicked off the festivities, the Connect Conference celebrated four years of innovation, and over 200 unexpected films were screened. Other highlights included John Jeremiah Sullivan and Rhiannon Giddens’s powerful musical exploration of Wilmington’s pre-coup culture of 1898.
Jacqueline Olive presented Always in Season, which premiered in competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and was awarded the Special Jury Prize for Moral Urgency. Visual/Sound/Walls, our opening night concert, blended the work of North Carolina musicians with the visual styling of a video jockey. A mashup of hip music videos were projected onto more than a dozen screens for an immersive experience – a seamless flow of ear-pleasing, eye-popping entertainment. Thomas F. DeFrantz’s reVERSE-gesture-reVIEWed explored the provocation of Kara Walker’s “Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War” series with shadowplay, dance, and image subtraction technology. Tom Whiteside’s It is Time installation was a spatially adventurous film program about time, with many films more than 100 years old as well as more recent wonders.
A worldwide pandemic couldn’t stop Cucalorus 26! Screenings were hosted in three formats: live online, streaming on-demand, and at the drive-in on the University of North Carolina at Wilmington’s campus. Selections included The Passing On produced by NC-based filmmaker Lana Garland and Megan Daniel’s heartwarming portrait of four transgender ministers called Proper Pronouns. Visual/Sound/Walls featured Sparks! and was hosted live online with 534 attendees. This special Friday the 13th retrospective of their wildly inventive music videos included live chats with host Aaron Hillis throughout the evening. A series of live conversations were held with filmmakers on Zoom throughout the festival, encouraging interaction and community building.
The 27th annual Cucalorus Film Festival returned in person to downtown Wilmington, North Carolina. Selections included The Rest of Us, Florencia Krochik’s exploration of the broken American immigration system, and Alexander Liu’s honest and personal documentary about sex education in America, A Sexplanation. Editing collective Racer Trash curated a Visual/Sound/Walls experience at Jengo’s Playhouse, as well as the Bus to Lumberton, which took over Thalian Hall’s Mainstage with an adoring destruction of David Lynch’s masterpiece Blue Velvet.
The 28th annual Cucalorus Film Festival showcased 136 films, beginning with the Wilmington-made opening night feature film, The Devil’s Stomping Ground. Other features included Our Father the Devil, The Smell of Money and the strange-but-true tale of The Pez Outlaw. The Cucalorus Performances program proudly welcomed Isabella Rossellini back to Wilmington to perform her one-woman show, Darwin’s Smile. This ultimate Bus to Lumberton experience packed out Thalian Hall and made for an unforgettable evening of theatre. Fan favorite Alex Tatarsky also returned to the stage with her new show Dirt Trip. Comedian Julia Desmond’s Acme Revue brought a dynamic combination of visual art, comedy and music–not to mention one incredibly memorable night at Jengo’s Playhouse. The Conversations program explored Black history in Wilmington with wilmingtoNColor, the OUT Dance Project, and The Making of the Nuevo South, a television series about the Latino immigrant experience in the South.