The meaning of Cucalorus, originally “kukaloris”, is defined as the dance of the shadows. Cucalorus is also an annual film festival every November in Wilmington, North Carolina. Dan Brawley, executive director spoke with the Audience Awards about the original film festival— relaxed and open to filmmakers and families, movie lovers and party goers.
AudNews: How did Cucalorus get its beginning?
Dan: Cucalorus was born in 1994 – the same year that OJ ran from the cops.
The festival was started by a filmmaking collective called Twinkle Doon – a group of young filmmakers working at the studio here and then making their own stuff in between. The first festival was held at a riverside restaurant and about 350 people showed up but the restaurant only held about 100. Ooops! There were some interesting people in the audience – Liv Tyler, Renee Zellweger – they were in town shooting Empire Records.
AudNews: How has the festival developed since then?
Dan: The festival has obviously grown since then, and Wilmington has remained an important production location. As a side effect, it still has a thriving underground scene. Cucalorus really isn’t like other festivals though. We don’t give out any awards at Cucalorus— no red carpet, just lots of moonshine and a big schedule full of independent and international films. We passionately support our filmmakers—not just once, but over the course of their careers. We have a residency program and we host never-ending after parties with bonfires and pimento cheese.
Over the years, the festival has grown to become an interdisciplinary showcase with programs on dance, music videos, emerging artists, social justice, works-in-progress, and international cinema. We screen about 200 films every year: 70 features and 140 shorts. We don’t give out any awards and there’s definitely no red carpet. Instead, we try to create a more relaxed atmosphere (the moonshine helps), where artists can connect with each other and with our audience. Festival venues are all located in historic downtown Wilmington. It is very walkable and welcoming. In some ways, the festival is like an artist retreat— a chance to share work but also to build creative relationships.
AudNews: What are some of your favorite films from this year’s festival?
Dan: Ha, I’m not really allowed to single out my faves! I love all the films. We’re doing a retrospective this year on Dino DeLaurentiis – honoring his legacy in Wilmington and his unbelievable career as one of the most prolific producers. We’ll be screening films that span 6 decades, starting with one of his breakouts from the 1950’s. Dino built the studios here in Wilmington in the mid 80’s. We’re holding a free outdoor screening of Flash Gordon to launch our popup cinema program, then on Saturday Martha DeLaurentiis will join us for a Saturday screening of Crimes of the Heart. We’ll close the retrospective with a screening of Hannibal (2001), the sequel to Silence of the Lambs.
AudNews: What is the story behind your involvement with Cucalorus?
Dan: I was forced to be part of Cucalorus through a CIA operative re-entry program. I’ve had full facial reconstructive surgery. I was actually in some of Dino’s early movies in the 1940’s in Italy. I’m celebrating my 123rd birthday on October 22.
AudNews: You look truly remarkable for 123. Are there other memorable experiences you have had with film festivals?
Dan: I also worked at The Edinburgh Film Festival about 15 years ago in the Print Traffic department. I learned how to carry 35mm prints around town and perfected my power napping technique in the projection booth at the Cameo Cinema. Ironically, I discovered some of my favorite American filmmakers over there. That’s where I saw David Gordon Green’s classic indie film George Washington, which was shot in North Carolina. Sometimes you have to get far away to discover your roots.
AudNews: What is something unique and exciting about Cucalorus?
Dan: Unique and exciting! Say Cucalorus seven times really fast. And now do it backwards! Okay, seriously though, we’re rebranding our late night program this year. We just blogged about it, so you can read more nonsense, here.
Cucalorus also gives 80% of our ticket sales back to the filmmakers. We manufacture film festivals and the artists are our key suppliers. We want to see them succeed, not just once, but over and over. The mainstream industry rewards mediocrity. We reward outlandish creativity, bravery, and sometimes stupidity.
For a look at more film festivals happening this fall in a city near you, check out the Audience Awards’ list of 15 Film Festivals for this Fall.