Dan Brawley thinks the timing of Cucalorus 2023 – kicking off on Wednesday – is a happy coincidence.
“I think we're looking at Cucalorus as a way to celebrate the end of the strike,” he said Monday, referring to the recent SAG-AFTRA agreement ending its 118-day work stoppage. “So, the timing in that regard is great. I have a lot of friends who are ready to get back to work.”
Although the festival’s films are independent productions and thus perhaps not affected by the recent writers’ and actors’ strikes, there is tremendous solidarity among the film community here and across the country. The annual festival, currently in its 29th year, celebrates the energy, power and creativity of film, music and dance.
Cucalorus typically receives more submissions than it can possibly screen. As the festival’s reputation has grown, its mailbox becomes increasingly jammed.
“We received 1,527 films this year,” Brawley said. “Too many as always but what a luxury to have such incredible work as the raw material for Cucalorus. I think [this year] we had submissions from 50 different countries.
“We're screening about 127 films. I think we're seeing more and more documentary work through our submission process,” he continued. “That's exciting but also we're seeing more authentic southern stories like our opening night film, A Song for Imogene
. We're also seeing the benefits of having a healthy film industry with lots of Wilmington and NC-based productions. So overall, the environment is thriving and dynamic.”
Brawley said the 10x10 Challenge is back, but has returned to its original format of pairing 10 filmmakers with 10 bands. In recent years, each filmmaker was matched with a business startup and given a short amount of time to develop a marketing video for the venture. This year’s free screening of the 10x10 Challenge takes place Thursday at 10 p.m. at Bowstring Burgers and Brewyard, 1002 Princess St., very close to Cucalorus’ home at Jengo’s Playhouse.
The continuing development of the Soda Pop District, Jengo’s home long before the neighborhood got the new moniker and resulting cachet, contributes to Cucalorus’ vibe, according to Brawley.
“I think over the past five years the biggest change is that we have these great buildings in our own neighborhood that have been restored and are contributing to a thriving scene,” he said. “That's really great for Cucalorus. And with Thalian Hall just about a seven-minute walk away, we have focused on making the festival easy and walkable. That's one of the really nice things about being in downtown Wilmington - the perfect laboratory for setting up creative connections and unexpected collisions. What's gonna happen this year? Who knows?”
Screenings this year take place in three Thalian Hall spaces as well as at Jengo’s Playhouse.
What will lure people away from their home screens, where they can stream any number of film experiences, and into Cucalorus venues? Brawley admits that people watch movies differently these days.
“Everyone has a little cinema in their home now and so that means we have to be even more tuned into what makes a night out special,” he said. “Having the filmmakers in attendance, I think, is so important - adding that personal touch to the experience. And then all the details matter, don't they: the popcorn recipe has to be just right (we use butter-flavored coconut oil and just the right amount of sea salt) and of course, we have the added benefit of our bar in the back of Jengo's.”
For Ted Lasso
fans, there will be an added incentive. Christo Fernandez, who played Dani Rojas in the popular series, will attend the festival.
Cucalorus Festival runs Wednesday through Sunday. Click here for more information