The most wonderful time of the year

That unmistakable, far-off yet not-so-distant hint of winter is in the air. September in Calgary, and we all know what that means. No, not back to school – although that is the case for many – but rather the Calgary International Film Festival. As a born-and-raised Calgarian, I’m loath to admit that last year was my first true CIFF experience. Oh yes, I’d been to the occasional film in years past, but 2009 was a turning point. After purchasing the 10 pack, I bought last minute tickets to at least six other films in an attempt to take in as many films as possible.

With memories of last year still fresh, I’m back for more. I’ve awaited CIFF 2010 with the quiet anticipation typically reserved for shopping mall Santa’s on December 25. Already, my list of must see films tops well over thirty. So many in fact, I was forced to deploy a complex spreadsheet to keep each day straight. My festival-going strategy is not unlike how I used to prepare for University exams:

1) Study, study, study – reference film listings online, CIFF reviews and synopses, local media and blogger reviews, and recommendations from friends and colleagues
2) Plan – work out a schedule that – at least tries to – balance life, work and film, with a note to family and friends that I’ll be more-or-less incommunicado until October 4
3) Prioritize – list the films I want to see, giving priority to those I absolutely cannot stand to miss
4) When in doubt, choose ‘C’ – throw all my careful planning out the window and see as many films as possible

The success rate of this approach was remarkably high last year so I figured, ‘why mess with a good system?’ Even those films that I knew little-to-nothing about, or those that didn’t initially make my top 10 list, were each brilliant in their own way. That’s the beauty of CIFF – it’s a unique and wonderful event, specifically designed to feed the varied interests of any and all festival-goers. Where else could one take in a sports-themed musical on Thursday, lusty drama, humor and intrigue on Wednesday, and a shoot-em-up, down-n-dirty Western on Sunday? This isn’t your usual Friday night movie, kids, this is 11 days of passion, darkness, levity, art and philosophy.

If the films are the full-bodied, dark roast, extra-tall latte of the festival, the venues are the chocolate-dusted, double-foam whipped topping. Together, they create the steaming cup of deliciousness that keeps you coming back for more, and you couldn’t possibly have one without the other. The Globe Theatre and The Plaza are not simply movie houses, they’re part of the CIFF experience – their history and charm infuse each film with greater emotion. These are grandfatherly buildings, with their buttery popcorn-scented haze, are what make film-watching truly magical experiences.

If you’ve never been to the film festival before, I recommend you check it out – even if it’s just to take some time to enjoy yourself on a Friday night. I promise you won’t regret it. And if you’re already a frequent flyer, spread the good word. You’ve seen the pot-o-gold at the end of this rainbow, and it’s a prize best shared with others.

*Originally posted on the Calgary International Film Festival blog

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