Watching the online festival from home
  Watching the Calgary Underground Film Festival online | Photo: Caitlind R.C. Brown

Calgary Underground Film Festival

By Meng Wei

Every year in April since 2003, the Calgary Underground Film Festival (CUFF) has been showing independent films that we rarely have the chance to see elsewhere.

After having their biggest audience ever in 2019, the iconic film fest in Calgary decided to continue in 2020 despite all the complications of putting on a film festival online.


“It just felt important for us to do it for the fans regardless of the situation,” says CUFF’s Director and Lead Programmer Brenda Lieberman.


And despite the challenges, CUFF successfully showcased the full lineup. Most of the films were shown on digital platforms, but CUFF also came up with a solution to still give that experience we enjoy so much when we sit in front of the big screen gasping and laughing with the rest of the audience.


“The drive-in gave us an opportunity to have an in-person experience, and also to show some films that we wouldn’t have been able to show virtually.” 


With the support of public funding, CUFF was able to purchase the drive-in equipment and pay for protected online distribution, making it one of the first festivals to transition online.

Cuties in cars at a Calgary Underground Film Festival drive-in screening
  Photo: Caitlind R.C. Brown

“We had already programmed the whole festival, and if we waited too much longer, we weren’t going to have the ability to use the content that we’d worked on, so we made a decision really fast,” she says.


With the dedication of their limited staffing during the pandemic, CUFF managed to make the festival more accessible to audiences who couldn’t have made it to the festival in previous years.


“The hard of hearing community responded favourably to the fact that they closed captioned all of the films, and being able to watch the films from home made them more accessible for people with mobility challenges. We’ve definitely seen interest in people from outside of Calgary as well, so I hope that it translates in the future to when we’re in person—maybe they’ll make a trip.”


In a new era where a niche production can be easily buried among the hundreds of films that pop up on your screen, Brenda talks about the value of festivals like CUFF.


“Independent film festivals are good at curating selections and making recommendations so audiences can have a sense of what’s out there that they wouldn’t normally find,” she adds. “It’s great to see everyone having a good experience at the festival, while also being grateful and enthusiastic that we did it.


“We are really motivated by the fans and the sponsors and everyone who is so appreciative.”