by Cole Dittmer
Wednesday, October 30, 2013

“A Short History of Decay” 

Films have the power to stir emotions, to inspire, to create, to wow and to bring communities together. 

In its 18-year history Wilmington’s Cucalorus Film Festival has brought countless communities, organizations and artists together in celebration of pioneering works from filmmakers both known and unknown. 

Reflecting on where the festival has been and where it is going for the 19th Cucalorus taking place Nov. 13-17, festival director Dan Brawley said he has seen an entire generation of filmmakers rise from obscurity to direct big-budget films. 

“That first generation that was screening films from the mid 1990s to early 2000s … has taken some incredible risks in their work,” Brawley said. “For me that is the thing I have been thinking about when we put this festival together, there has been a cultural shift where film festivals are now an essential piece of that larger cultural faction that is film.”

Brawley has worked for Cucalorus for 15 years and now attends at least seven to eight film festivals nationwide to stay in touch with industry contacts and discover new works. Giving new, talented filmmakers an outlet for their work was the main impetus of the film festival movement, he said. 

“I don’t think film festivals becoming mainstream was anybody’s plan in the 1990s when the festivals started, that was just from all this pressure building up because there were all these young filmmakers making work and they had nothing to do with it,” he said. “Now there is this whole audience demand and it is a good thing.”

Another important development that has helped Cucalorus and other film festivals expand is the Internet. While Brawley said some might perceive that the Internet has diluted the market, he believes it has also pushed filmmakers to push boundaries and set themselves apart from the masses. 

The result — Cucalorus received the most submissions to date with 1,384 entrants combed through by a collection of 25 individuals to put together the five-day festival consisting of 207 films. 

“I could easily program another film festival tomorrow and show 207 films while not showing any of the films we are already showing and still be a world-class film festival,” Brawley said. “I think that is one of the misconceptions both filmmakers and audience members have about us, is that we just sit around and say, ‘Oh that one is good enough.’ It isn’t about what is good and what is bad, it is more about building a festival that hits all these different segments of the community and really represents what is happening in the film industry.”

Screenings will take place at five different venues around downtown Wilmington. Brawley said the festival’s different categories were created to help attendees find films that suit their taste. 

The Magnolia category consists of more mainstream feature films and documentaries like “The Zigzag Kid” and “Redwood Highway,” many of which have won awards at other festivals around the world. Brawley said the Vanguard category contains films that would be considered classically indie and pioneering like “Swim Little Fish Swim” and Greece’s Academy Award nominee “Boy Eating the Bird’s Food.” Voices and Works-in-Progress films play to those interested in social issues like “Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia” and “Wilmington On Fire.” 

Another category that separates Cucalorus from many other film festivals is its many film shorts blocks, Brawley said. 

“If you go to a film festival you have got to see at least one shorts block, it is part of the experience,” he said. “Those are so much fun because the filmmakers are almost always there so the question and answer sessions afterward are hilarious. We try to give the short filmmakers just as much credit … in a lot of festivals the shorts feel like an afterthought but we are showing over 120 shorts, which is a huge program.” 

One of the Magnolia features being screened for the second time in the United States is Michael Maren’s “A Short History of Decay,” which was largely filmed in Wrightsville Beach. The film stars former Wilmington resident Linda Lavin and is a dramatic comedy that follows a failed writer who visits his ailing parents in Florida. 

Brawley said Cucalorus also serves the area’s film industry by bringing in new artists who may one day film on location in places like Wrightsville Beach. 

“Sitting back and waiting for somebody to send you their work is really a recipe for mediocrity so I have to be really active and aggressive with looking for new work and trying to connect the artists, especially being situated in a small town,” he said. “We are introducing filmmakers to the infrastructure and community, which is exciting. A lot of these emerging artists will start making bigger budget projects in the next 5-10 years and all of a sudden Wilmington will become an option.”

For a full festival schedule and ticket information, visit 


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