Photo from the event The Ascent
Fom the event: The Ascent | Photo by Michael Grondin

Calgary International Film Festival, The Ascent

By Meghan Power

Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF) is always experimenting with new ways of adding to the film festival experience. The history of film and the development of the film industry is intertwined with art, technology, and innovation, and so, a collaboration between CIFF and Beakerhead seemed inevitable.

“Before we knew what we wanted to work on together, we knew we wanted it to be something big,” CIFF’s Executive Director, Steve Schroeder explains. “Something that would be emblematic of both festivals’ passion for imagination, creative storytelling, and forward thinking.”


With the sudden onset of a global pandemic and a drastic change in how Calgary’s festivals operated and with some having to be cancelled, CIFF and Beakerhead wanted to offer Calgarians an experience that would provide escape, while contributing to a collective sense of hope and courage that was needed in the face of Covid.


Enter David. David is the largest marionette in North America. David is 34-feet tall, fully articulated, and comprises 800 feet of ½ inch aluminum rods, 1,200 feet of rope, and various pulleys. David was originally created by The Underground Circus (Vancouver), in 2009, for the opening of the Vancouver Convention Centre, but since has been featured at many events across North America.


Together, CIFF and Beakerhead came up with the idea for The Ascent, a live, filmed event in which David, assisted by a team of puppeteers and operators, climbs 39 stories of Oxford Properties’ Devon Tower, in Calgary’s downtown. As David climbed, audience members engaged in a narrative that followed David through a series of human emotions: fear, doubt, anger, joy, love, and acceptance. David’s emotional and physical journey was accompanied by installations, Steely T (a giant rolling, flaming steampunk turtle), Nibbles (Beakerhead’s big bunnies), and film clips and provided by CIFF, projected onto the side of Eau Claire Market, to help illustrate what David was experiencing.


The entire event took approximately three hours and was cinematically captured by a multi-camera shoot with drones and multiple ground cameras (an engineering feat of its own). Over 8000 audience members gathered in-person and online to experience The Ascent.


According to Steve, funding for The Ascent, and for organizations like CIFF and Beakerhead to even have the capacity to experiment and collaborate is essential. Collaborations between organizations require big investments. Not just money, but time, expertise, and equipment. A lot of time and energy is spent just on learning how to collaborate, brainstorming, experimenting, and failing before success is achieved.


“CADA’s forward-thinking funding is allowing for organizations, like us, to play together, take risks together, fail together, and ultimately succeed together,” Schroeder says. “And at the heart of creativity and innovation is where many different fields intersect. It’s within these spaces that creativity and innovation are cultivated. Each collaboration, each event, each artistic project, or scientific endeavor has an accumulative effect – a cultural vibe that continues to fuel more innovation, creative thinking, and forward growth that ultimately is helping to propel Calgary forward as a city that cultivates and attracts creativity and innovation across all sectors.”