Interview with Festival Director Brennan Tilley (Calgary Underground Film Festival)

Founded in 2003, the Calgary Underground Film Festival (CUFF) is dedicated to programming films that defy convention. Through the screening of contemporary works in various categories that include: feature, documentary, animation and shorts – CUFF brings Calgarians a unique roster of films rarely seen in North American theatres. CUFF currently has two annual festivals. The main Calgary Underground Film Festival runs for 7-days in mid-April; CUFF.Docs International Documentary Festival is in November. In addition, CUFF showcases special event screenings throughout the year.

Interview with the Festival Director Brennan Tilley:

Matthew Toffolo: What is your Film Festival succeeding at doing for filmmakers?

Brennan Tilley: The Calgary Underground Film Festival has always highlighted underseen films and helped filmmakers get their work in front of an audience. As new distribution models have been introduced it is easier for filmmakers to get their films seen, but we are still providing one of a limited number of ways to properly experience a film with an audience. We maintain a casual environment and are a great opportunity for visiting filmmakers to connect with each other.

Matthew: What would you expect to experience if you attend the festival this year (2016)?

Brennan: An engaged audience that trusts us to bring in the best films. It is an opportunity to watch these films with people that love the films we screen. We enhance the experience through an arcade featuring new games from independent developers, DJs and VJs between films, a themed bar, and plenty of pop-up surprises

Matthew: What are the qualifications for the selected films?

Brennan: The main criterion is that a film defies convention or breaks boundaries. These films in some way depart from what we have seen before.

Matthew: Do you think that some films really don’t get a fair shake from film festivals? And if so, why?

Brennan: By and large, festivals want to screen the best films possible. If a film is good and made available to festivals, a film will likely get a fair shake.

Matthew: What motivates you and your team to do this festival?

Brennan: We strive to connect with the filmmakers whose films we screen. Those connections and the appreciation the filmmakers show for it is a big driver for us. Cultivating the best audience experience and the response we get from that is also a huge motivator.

Matthew: How has the festival changed since its inception?

Brennan: The spirit and the intentions of the festival have remained consistent. The main change is the size. We have moved from a single, small non-theatrical venue over a few days to a full week with two dedicated screens at an arthouse cinema. At times, attendance figures increased at levels that made us certain we were miscalculating and then increased more the following year. Also, CUFF has become a yearround presence with an offshoot documentary festival in November and events year round.

Matthew: Where do you see the festival by 2020?

Brennan: We have several initiatives on deck to be added over the next five years. Nothing we are revealing right now 😉

Matthew: What film have you seen the most times in your life?

Brennan: In my life, probably GHOSTBUSTERS or WIZARD OF OZ, two films I started watching young and continue to watch. In the last 10-15 years, I would like to think it is Noah Baumbach’s KICKING AND SCREAMING. I also lost count of how many times I saw the Mandy Moore vehicle HOW TO DEAL in theatres; the summer of 2003 was a weird time.

Matthew: In one sentence, what makes a great film?

Brennan: A great film is engaging while watching it and sticks with a viewer long after.

Matthew: How is the film scene in your city?

Brennan: Movie watching in Calgary is heavily weighted in multiplexes and home theatres. In recent years, there has been a marked increase in audience attendance and engagement with film festivals and events. Also, cultural groups and arts organizations are highly supportive of related film screenings and events. The film scene is supported by a burgeoning film production community.


Interview Subject Brennan Tilley holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Business Process Management. He serves as Lead Programmer and Administrative Manager of the Calgary Underground Film Festival, President and Programming Chair of the Calgary Cinematheque and Shorts Programmer for the Calgary International Film Festival. He can count to ten (diez) in Spanish with assistance on only eight (ocho) of the numbers. Contrary to rumours, he has not recently watched his VHS copy of the Chevy Chase classic Funny Farm.

Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Fesival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to for more information and to submit your work to the festival.