The film invasion is coming

The film invasion is coming. That’s right, starting on Wednesday September 21st, it’s time for the 17th annual Calgary International Film Festival. With over 150 films and events taking place, deciding what to see during the twelve day festival can be overwhelming. With everything from shorts to feature length films, from comedy to horror, from animation to documentary, and everything in between, there really is something for everyone on this years program. And to take some of the guesswork out of creating your CIFF schedule, I’ve made a list of some of this year’s must-see films.

Window Horses (Dir.Anne Marie Fleming)

When we think of animation, we tend to think of the Disney classics of our childhood, complete with bubbly animation of talking animals, precocious children, and of course, the princesses waiting for their princes. Window Horses, however, completely diverts from the animation of your childhood; and that’s exactly why you should go see it. Utilizing the voice talents of Sandra Oh, Ellen Page, and Shohreh Aghdashloo, Window Horses is the story of young poet Rosie Ming (Oh) who is invited to read her work at a poetry festival in Shiraz, Iran. Embarking on the journey of a lifetime, Rosie begins to learn more about her Iranian roots, while simultaneously walking a path of self-discovery and coming to terms with her multicultural identity.  This female-driven feature showcases not only a dynamic female protagonist and all-star cast, the director is none other than Anne Marie Fleming, a celebrated Canadian animator.  The only animated feature-length film on this year’s lineup, Window Horses is definitely a can’t-miss pick. PLUS, Sandra Oh and Anne Marie Fleming will be in attendance at the Wednesday night screening. Bonus!

Paterson (Dir.  Jim Jarmusch)

Normally, I would recommend that you pass over the films in the Headliner’s series in favour of other, lesser known films, as the headliners are usually issued a wide release a few months following the festival. Paterson, however, is one film that I just can’t wait for. Starring emerging talent Adam Driver (who, mark my words, will be an Oscar contender in a matter of years), Paterson follows the life of a bus driver and poet, known simply as Paterson (Driver) from, you guessed it, Paterson, New Jersey. Writing poetry, going to work, eating dinner with his wife, walking his dog, and drinking one beer at the bar, Paterson quietly goes through his routine without interruption, listening and writing on the idiosyncrasies of human kind. A slice-of-life film at its best. With stunning performances from Driver and his co-star Golshifteh Farahani, this Palme d’Or nominated film is sure to be a festival highlight. (And for all you Wes Anderson fans, the film features cameos from Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, who play the star-crossed lovers Sam and Suzy in Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.)

Cheer Up (Christy Garland)

Who doesn’t love a good underdog story? If you’re Christy Garland, you know how true this is. Part of CIFF’s documentary series, Cheer Up is Garland’s docu-drama on the Ice Queens, the lowest-ranked high school cheerleading team in the Arctic Circle of Finland. Following two of the squad’s cheerleaders, Patu and Aino, and their coach, Miia, Cheer Up is a testament to some of the toughest and most resilient people on the planet: teenage girls. Promising to be more than just another cheerleading documentary, Cheer Up looks beyond the routines to explore the pressure of succeeding, learning how to grieve the loss of a loved one, and the gargantuan teenage task of finding your identity. Complete with plenty of herkies, handsprings, and its fair share of bloody noses, Cheer Up should be at the top of your CIFF documentary must-sees.

Manchester by the Sea (Dir. Kenneth Lonergan)

If you’re looking for a film with serious award season potential, this is it. Already receiving buzz in the Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, AND Best Picture categories, Manchester by the Sea is shaping up to be an awards season heavyweight. Starring household names Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, and Kyle Chandler, Manchester by the Sea is the story of Lee (Affleck) who, after his brother Joe (Chandler) dies, becomes the legal guardian of Joe’s teenage son, Patrick. Award buzz aside, Manchester by the Sea promises to be one of the best films to come out this year, supported by spectacular performances from the entire cast and top-notch work from the films director and screenwriter, Kenneth Lonergan. So if you’re looking for a film this CIFF that is guaranteed to be spectacular (a 91/100 “universal acclaim”-on-Metacritic guarantee, to be exact), then Manchester by the Sea is your best bet.

American Honey (Dir. Andrea Arnold)

Think of counterculture classics like On the Road and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but imagine them instead, with generation Y, and replace Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson with a teenage girl from the Midwest. Add one of the most promising directors of the last decade, Andrea Arnold, and you have American Honey. Serving as the films writer and director, Arnold takes the beloved road-film and makes it into something for this decade. As narratively compelling as it is visually stunning, I’m putting my chips on American Honey being the breakout film of the festival. While I’ve only seen the trailer for the film, the electrifying chemistry between stars Sasha Lane and Shia LaBeouf is evident, and the films setting in the great American Midwest can only add up to good things for this little indie film.

Shorts Packages

If you only had time to see one film and you were to ask me what you should see, I would say two things. One, I feel sorry that you can only see one film in the twelve amazing days of world class cinema. Go ahead, take a “sick day” from all your responsibilities and go see a bunch of films, I won’t tell. Second, if you really only have time to see one film, why not see ten? What I mean is, why not take in one of CIFF’s nine short’s packages? With each package containing roughly 7-10 short films, they really are the best way to get the most for your time, and money. Plus, 2016 is the first year where CIFF is an Oscar-qualifying festival for short films, which means the film selected by the festival jury as the best overall short film, will qualify for Academy Award consideration! My recommendation, though? The “Hump Night” shorts on Wednesday the 28th at Eau Claire, because who doesn’t love a little love-and-sex mixed in with their film.