WILMINGTON — More than 260 movies will be screened during the 21st annual Cucalorus Film Festival, which kicks off Wednesday in downtown Wilmington. Touted by MovieMaker Magazine as “one of the coolest film festivals in the world,” the five-day event serves as a showcase for up-and-coming directors like Christopher Everett.
The Laurinburg resident is expected to premiere his documentary “Wilmington on Fire” at the festival on Saturday. Pieced together from several years’ worth of research and interviews, the film aims to shed light on a little-remembered race riot instigated by white supremacists in 1898.
Everett graduated from Scotland High School in 2001 and studied design at King’s College in Charlotte. Following a string of commercials and shorts, “Wilmington on Fire” is the director’s first feature-length project.
It’s not uncommon for films to get picked up by distributors after making a splash at Cucalorus. A couple of recent success stories are “Blue Ruin,” a revenge thriller from 2013, and “It Follows,” an acclaimed horror film featured last year.
In addition to fledgling filmmakers, the festival will host new works from art house veterans like Sion Sono — the prolific Japanese director behind 2013’s “Why Don’t You Go Play in Hell?” The films will be screened across several venues in downtown Wilmington, including Thalian Hallʼs Main Stage and Thalian Black, Union Station Jengos Playhouse and City Stag.
Several movie-themed art exhibitions will be on display during the festival, including an installation that might be of particular interest to Robeson County residents. “Bus to Lumberton” is billed as a multimedia tribute to director David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” — a cult classic that was shot in Wilmington, but set in a fictionalized version of Lumberton.
Lynch liked the name “Lumberton” because it sounded generic and he has said in interviews that his version of the city — a timber-fueled suburbia with a seedy underbelly — bares little resemblance to the actual place. The director based the fictional town on his childhood home in Spokane, Washington.
However unintentional, the film’s success has led many fans to associate the Lumberton of “Blue Velvet” with Lumberton, North Carolina. Google searches for the real city often yield stories about “Blue Velvet.”
This year’s festival will see the launch of the Cucalorus Connect Conference, described in a press release as a “celebration of innovation and entrepreneurship across many industries from tech to textiles and brewing.” More than 50 events will be offered as part of the conference, ranging from TED talks-style presentations to panel discussions of emerging technologies and economic trends.
Tickets to the Cucalorus Film Festival, which range in price from $45 to $300, can be purchased at cucalorus.org or by calling 910-343-5995.
Jaymie Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5771 or by email at [email protected]