WILMINGTON – When the Cucalorus Festival turns on the lights, Nov. 13-17, for its 25th anniversary run, it brings a rich mix of adventurous offerings to venues spread across downtown Wilmington. Scheduled films include narrative dramas, documentaries, dark comedies, works-in-progress, and more than 150 short films presented in 14 themed collections (named after hairstyles). The shorts range in genre from dance and docs to animation and comedy, with special collections rated for kids and for adults-only.
However, Cucalorus is more than just a lineup of films. The festival includes Cucalorus Stage performances and a technology conference titled Cucalorus Connect. The aim of all the programming is to examine the intersections of creativity, technology and humanity that give rise to unique productions.
Brighid Greene, a.k.a. Tectonic Tonia, organizes the stage program for Cucalorus. A NYC-based film, theater, and dance artist, her experience includes organizing stints with the Tribeca Film Festival and Lincoln Center’s Dance on Camera Festival. As a member of Third Rail Projects, she worked on Wolves in the Wall, a VR experience that premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Currently, she produces Yara Travieso’s genre-bending musical/film production La Medea, and, in her spare time, teaches Super 8 filmmaking.
Greene has been working with Cucalorus, curating the stage components, for six or seven years. “Cucalorus Stage is a mixture of local and national performance artists,” she says. “We have an open submission call and this year will feature artists from Baltimore, Canada and Florida, in addition to North Carolina and New York City.”
Dance + film = Dance-a-lorus
For almost a decade, Cucalorus has kicked off with Dance-a-lorus, its original live stage production and a good example of what Cucalorus is all about. Filmmakers team with dancers, creating unique works in which images and bodies intertwine and interact in often unique and fascinating ways. Brighid Greene points to a couple of stand-outs among the 10 performances in this year’s Wednesday evening program.
“Mujer_cita_habanera is a very powerful piece,” Greene says. A collaboration between choreographer Niurca Márquez and Miami-based filmmaker Dinorah de Jesús Rodríguez, the work examines violence against women using footage filmed in ladies rooms across Miami, as Márquez interacts with her image on screen.
Obscured Habitations, a work by choreographer SheaRa Nichi and filmmaker Antrell McLean, features footage filmed locally at Wrightsville Beach, Smith Creek and Downtown Wilmington. The action centers around a mermaid, actually the African Goddess of the Ocean, who gets lost on land and struggles to communicate with local inhabitants.
Following Dance-a-lorus, another Cucalorus tradition revs up. The annual Visual/Sound/Walls opening night party this year features three Durham, NC artists: hip hop star G Yamazawa, musician and filmmaker Shirlette Ammons and DJ and video curator Kid Ethnic, collaborating on an immersive night of music and multi-screen videos. Yamazawa, a Japanese-American hip hop artist and national slam poetry champion, is best known for his track “North Cack” recently featured in a Nike football ad campaign. Kid Ethnic directed the music video for “North Cack,” which won Best Music Video at the Harlem Hip Hop Film Festival.
“There will be multiple screens and projectors, with images on every wall and surface, a totally immersive experience,” Greene says. “You’ll be surrounded by visual images and sounds, like being in a concert. Kid Ethnic is bringing a drummer along to add even more to the mix.”
The Cloud and I
As a quick look around will verify, nothing these days holds our attention more than our cellphones. OK GURGLE, a Cucalorus Stage presentation, explores the intricacies of our relationships with electronic devices in a mixed-media performance, and yes, there is singing. This scary yet fun experimental musical explores issues that include privacy, data collection, instant gratification, electronic surveillance, and identity recognition.
“At some point, you realize, Wow! I’m watching this show, but I’m really thinking about my phone,” Greene says. “We are more engaged with our devices than we are with the world around us. The show is very funny, and very true.”
Greene says she is hoping to have a Q&A after the performance that includes some of the tech specialists presenting in the Cucalorus Connect program.
Several films on the Cucalorus schedule also tackle our fascination/obsession with social media and the devices that deliver it:
The World or Nothing (El Mundo o Nada), a feature-length documentary, tells the story of 29-year-old Cuban twin brothers, Rubert and Rubildo, determined to gather one-million friends on social media.
Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway, a feature-length comedy, described as a “Cold War techno-fantasy,” is a mashup of The Matrix, Filipino exploitation cinema, vintage kung fu pics and ’60s European spy movies with a plot that centers on a Soviet cyber virus.
Made Public, part of the Bouffant Shorts program, explores the plight of a groom who shares his doubts about his wedding on social media the night before tying the knot.
Push the Point, a short musical film included in the Butt Cut Comedy Shorts program, follows online gamers as they navigate super-fandom and the futility of having an argument on the internet.
In the Fauxhawk Animation shorts program, the short-short #Disrupt features the siren song of Tech.
And then there’s Dick Pics! (A Documentary), a stop-motion animated short that asks that timeless question: “what compels you to send pictures of your penis to non-consenting others?” It’s part of the adult-only Psychobilly Wedge Shorts: Say What? Program.
The way it was
Back at the turn of the last century, moving pictures themselves were a revolution in technology. Today, we’ve moved on to the digital age, but those early film and photography technologies can offer real insight into the development of our present-day culture.
It Is Time, one of the Cucalorus Stage programs, uses multiple screens to explore how film can alter our perception of time. Presented by Tom Whiteside, a Durham-based experimental filmmaker with a huge collection of films that spans more than 100 years and includes works by film pioneers such as Louis Lumière, Alice Guy, and Jean Durand, the program is presented mostly on 16mm running on projectors from yesteryear.
“I’m really excited about this one because it’s actual film, an analog experience,” Brighid Greene says.
Photography buffs will want to catch Instant Surf, a doc in the Pompadour Shorts program. Matt Smith, the subject of the film, has been shooting Polaroid and instant photographs of surfing and beach life for over a decade, using expired film and a collection of vintage cameras.
Technology meets film
Greene points out several other programs on the Cucalorus Stage lineup that make use of new technology.
reVERSE-gesture-reVIEWed combines shadowplay, dance, and image subtraction technology to explore Black women’s presence in the landscape of the Civil War. The work is based on Kara Walker’s celebrated “Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War,” a series of prints which themselves combine period pictures with cut-out paper silhouettes in haunting tableaux. The performance comes to Cucalorus from Duke’s Slippage performance research group, organized by Thomas F. DeFrantz, a professor of dance at Duke University and noted dance historian.
LiZez LIVE! A Play, Act V: 100 things (or so)(and counting) I’m learning from making 100s of tiny versions of myself is a live-streamed installation and performance created by Baltimore artist Liz Clayton Scofield (who identifies as they/them). “They’ve made tiny little versions of themselves using 3-D scans and a 3-D printer,” Greene says. “You watch Liz play with them in a diorama.” LiZez LIVE! is paired with Color Wheel, a live color experience using shadow puppets, overhead projector, stop motion animation, and song.
Technology + dance
Cucalorus Stage also presents a pair of dance performances by NYC choreographer Julia Gladstone and North Carolina mime Sheila Kerrigan sharing the bill at Wilmington cocktail bar Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Gladstone’s group performs Animal Law, which uses the dynamics of child’s play as an allegory for larger political issues, a look at playing the game when you don’t know the rules. Kerrigan’s Mime Explains String Theory!, a talking mime show for adults, explores the connections between us all. “The pieces are funny and comical, but also very serious and meaningful,” Greene says.
Greene also recommends the short film Revel in Your Body, part of the Bangs shorts program. Performed by disability dance company Kinetic Light, the work features disabled performers in wheelchairs exploring the nexus of disability and dance.
“Their work is so amazing,” Greene says. “They’ll be performing in person at the Wilson Center at Cape Fear Community College Nov. 15 during Cucalorus, although it’s not one of our shows. But very worth seeing.”
Tickets and passes to Cucalorus are on sale now at the online box office: cucalorus.org/boxoffice. For general information visit cucalorus.org or follow on social channels @cucalorus or using hashtags: #cucalorus #cuc25 #cucalorus25.