WILMINGTON – The 25th annual Cucalorus Festival closed out its five-day run of nearly 200 films, stage events and tech conferences that drew impressive crowds, despite stormy, wet and windy weather in the Port City. Executive director Dan Brawley took a few moments to comment on this year’s festival and what’s to come.

“The beauty of Cucalorus often lies in the calculated chaos that sweeps you away from screening to party to performance,” Brawley said. “We sliced away a bit of the chaos so that the experience was more streamlined for the community, maybe easier to move around but more powerful emotionally. You could see that in the stream of people coming to see Nick Adkins [founder of the Pinksocks Movement] who were sitting on the floor and standing in the back. That felt like a special Cucalorus moment – a turning point for Connect too.”

For Brawley and others this year’s festival felt more intimate and more integrated than in previous years. He points to Jackie Olive’s homecoming with “Always in Season” as an example of that integrated experience. “Her project coming full circle from our residency program through our development lab and then screening at Thalian Hall – it was an emotional moment to celebrate that combination of creativity and justice,” he said. “And of course there were plenty of unexpected gifts – like Kenny G [in Wilmington for a concert] coming to see Shirley Gnome perform her signature mixture of sex-soaked humor.”

Rhonda Bellamy, executive director of the Arts Council of Wilmington, received a Cucalorus award, honoring her leadership in the arts community. Photo: R Wright.

Although Cucalorus does no audience voting, in keeping with the non-competitive tradition of the festival, a local favorite emerged and was screened a second time on the final day. This year’s Buzz Repeat was Alicia Ishiradu’s “What the River Knows” about the 1898 massacre of black citizens during a coup by white supremacists. “It is still a work-in-progress but the event sold out quickly and we had to turn lots of people away,” Brawley says. Expect to see the finished project at a future Cucalorus.

Another Sunday night special was the “Secret Film,” a surprise screening of a film Brawley and crew expect to make waves on the radar. This year, Cucalorus screened “The Twentieth Century,” a debut film by Matthew Rankin that made its world premiere as a Midnight Madness selection at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. Oscilloscope Laboratories acquired U.S. rights to the film about an aspiring young Canadian politician and will release it in theaters and online.

Planning for 2020 and beyond

Although Cucalorus is over for this year, Dan Brawley and his staff don’t have much time to rest. “We have a full-time staff of five employees that work year-round,” he said. “We’ll take a beat and then start looking at next year. We have a few surprises in store.”

Brawley revealed that he expects future festivals to focus on the future of health and our bodies. “This community is still recovering from Hurricane Florence,” he said. “Cucalorus is still recovering. So this year was a bit of a reset for us. The festival was an incredibly healing experience.”

The Venus Fly Trap Cuck-tail headed the list of 2019’s signature cocktails. Photo: R Wright.

The Cucalorus staff organizes and executes some 300 events every year, according to Brawley, and only half of those are part of Cucalorus. Additional film festivals organized by Cucalorus include Surfalorus, held every September on the Outer Banks; Tar Heel Shorties, a festival of short films held in Wilson every June; and the Lumbee Film Festival, showcasing films by American Indians, held at UNC Pembroke in May. The Pop-Up Cinema program, a free, outdoor series, brings family-friendly films to parks and parking lots across southeastern North Carolina.

Dan Brawley, “Instigator in Chief” of Cucalorus, reflects on a successful run in 2019. All photos by Renee Wright for Capitol Broadcasting, ARR

Cucalorus also oversees the Filmed in NC Fund, which awards grants for indie film and video projects by artists who are permanent residents of North Carolina, or who are full-time students at colleges or universities in North Carolina, as well as the Cucalorus Artist Residency program, which supports the development of new work in film, dance, and theater. A Dance Makers Retreat and the Immersion VR Creation Lab are among the annual residencies sponsored by the Cucalorus Foundation.

“The biggest news on deck,” Brawley said, “is the call for applications for next year’s round of Filmed in NC Indie Filmmakers grants. The application will go live the second week of December. We’ll also be announcing our residency calendar for 2020 in December and seeking applications from artists in a wider range of media who want to spend time here in Wilmington working on new projects. So stay tuned…”

Additional information on all these programs can be found on the Cucalorus website: cucalorus.org/

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