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With New Hybrid Format, Show Goes On For Cucalorus Festival

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Jul 20, 2020
Dan Brawley, Cucalorus Festival leader, stands outside a previous venue of the festival, but some settings may change as the festival is reimagined into a hybrid format this year due to COVID-19. (File photo)
Leaders of the Cucalorus Festival say the event will go on in November, but on a platform like never before. 

The Cucalorus Festival, which includes film, theater, music and business conference events each year, is currently being planned as a hybrid format, a mix of virtual and some in-person events, said Dan Brawley, the festival's leader, on Monday.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a strain on many area events, even canceling some larger area events such as the N.C. Fourth of July Festival in Southport this year. That's due to statewide restrictions on gatherings meant to slow down the virus's spread.

But Cucalorus is being reimagined, and will happen in a different format this fall with a focus on artist support and community building, Brawley said. The event details are currently in the works, with some likely to be released in the coming months and a full schedule announcement by late September.

For the film portion of the festival, the film deadline for submissions was Friday. Now, the Cucalorus team of judges will watch and pick this year's list of film selections at the end of August, he said.

Within the next two-to-three weeks, Brawley said Cucalorus organizers could make an announcement on the number of days the event will be held for this year. 

That includes possibly extending the five-day festival even longer to help participants, vendors, viewers and attendees get an even greater opportunity to take part in activities, he said.

The virtual component that's being planned this year also affords event organizers a chance to include more filmmakers, speakers and participants from around the world, he said.

"We're really looking to lean into it and to take this opportunity to do some new things. With moving some events online, this festival can be de-centralized and there is a chance for people all over the planet to participate at the same time," he said. 

Brawley pointed to the Lumbee Film Festival the first week in July, as an example of Cucalorus' recent success of bringing in folks from all over the world to participate online.

"And so, we're really hoping to capitalize on this very unique opportunity to connect people, to sort of stitch the Cucalorus network together from all over the world," Brawley said. "And then at the same time, we're also figuring out how to do things here in Wilmington that are exciting." 

Brawley said he's more excited than ever for the opportunity to bring something new to the Cucalorus Festival, as plans push organizers to re-evaluate how the festival will impact the community.

Brawley also sees the festival this year as bridging the Cucalorus community during the COVID-19 crisis and as a way to touch on equity and anti-racism, especially at its Cucalorus Connect Conference.

"I think probably what you will see with Connect is, each of the Connect sessions will have film as its inspiration. Really linking the content of the film festival to the content and the conversations that are happening at Connect," he said. "There again, is something where that just might become a standard for future years. This moment where we have been encouraged to venture into new territory, we'll discover an adaptation that we can use to make things better in the long term."

Online aspects could also include short film segments and extended Q&A sessions to get more people involved and greater conversations going, he said. There will also be some online performances utilizing some innovative platforms.

"There are likely to be some interactive online performances. And I think there will also be a lot of talking ... it's just a reflection that everyone is missing out on all this time that they used to spend together and so more than anything, I think this year's Cucalorus will be a chance to reconnect with some old friends," he said. 

The in-person portion of the planning is also in the works. Brawley pointed to outdoor type events such as the current drive-in series the Cucalorus Festival is putting on at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, stating, "we're hopeful that the drive-in set up that we put together at UNCW, we can use for this festival."

"There might be a week of drive-ins every night. That seems like a highly likely [scenario]," he added.

"The drive-in is expensive. Unfortunately, it's not a good way to make money. They're not really money makers. So it will take some generous community support to pull that off," Brawley said.

Another fact for the festival this year is that many of its funders are hitting a difficult time with the current crisis.

"That's another reality for us, is that for a lot of our funders, this is a difficult time. And so we have to be hyper-creative how we take limited resources and make something special. But we're good at that. When Cucalorus started it was literally on a shoestring budget."

Brawley welcomes the challenge and creative responsibility to make the best out of the current situation.

"This year's festival will be very special in ways that are completely unexpected," Brawley said. "Our alumni are in need of Cucalorus more than ever. And given all the anxiety and weirdness that we're all floating around in, moments like Cucalorus are more important than ever as a way to ... inspire us and heal."
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