I've always been better in the middle. Beginnings and ends just don't suit me, so when Cucalorus 13 faded and ended this past week, I was sad. I've been putting off this last post, savoring the outlandish memories (Tuaca Jousting!! and the Taylor 5??), as long as I can.

So what did happen at Cucalorus 13? WHO KNOWS!?!

Cucalorus is something more than just a film festival. Over 90 artists from around the world converged here in the port city for four days, sharing their work, trading ideas and creating community. Unlike other international film festivals, where the big moments are planned, ticketed and catalogued - the big moments at Cucalorus are hidden between the cracks. The great serendipities at Cucalorus are the reward for those who truly participate, for anyone whose willing to wait out the awkward moments - and we have plenty of those!

One of those awesome moments happened in the backyard at Jengo's Playhouse at the end (like 4am - the bitter end) of the festival. I'm not sure how it all started, but I do remember a Superkiiiiid jumping around, wrapped in a busted, blow-up Tuaca bottle. Whether this had anything to do with what happened next is a mystery. Nonetheless, the very new sport of Tuaca jousting made its debut. The press even got in on this one as Village Voice film critic Aaron Hillis emerged with a well-honed technique for this impromptu sporting event with an intensity which kept me on the sidelines. That man can do amazing things with a blow up bottle!

Equally impressive (and planned) was this year's rendition of Dance-a-lorus - the festival's annual live mixing of film and dance. Filmmaker Matthew Bonifacio was so inspired that he immediately phoned a choreographer back home in New York to get started on his plans for an entry into next year's Dance-a-lorus. Matthew was also one of the famed Taylor House 5 - he was the Taylor House 'golden boy' and according to rumor, a special batch of cookies was whipped up in his honor. All the nailing, the flushing and trashcan fussing will remain the stuff of legend, but you could ask Cullen Hoback how to ride a bike, if you really want to know more....

Anyone who braved the cold wind on the Cape Fear for the festival's Kickoff Carnival was sweetly rewarded. A blow up slide (all fests should have one) proved to be a perfect match for the hot Tuaca cider being served and there were more than a few amazing moments as Stefano Giannotti (clearly the star of Cucalorus 13), Ron Franklin and Cucalorus emcee Matt Malloy played guitar and sang away the night with a cruise ship sailing off in the background. A sold-out screening of Anders Morgenthaler's PRINCESS capped off an unforgettable day one at the fest.

Thursday kind of cruised along with a hefty schedule of events - five or six ongoing at any given time. The Screenwriting workshop with Rich Leder and Duncan Brantley was the high mark of my day. Reports from the screening aftermath of SOLDIERS OF CONSCIENCE were equally impressive as director Gary Weimberg entertained and challenged the crowd. Erica Dunton's REDMEANSGO sold-out quickly, but keep an eye on the Jengo's Playhouse calendar for an upcoming run of her film in our micro-cinema.

A very well-attended screening of Daniel Karslake's FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO at 9am on Friday proved, once again, that understanding and equality for the LGBT community is the hot cause of the day. But easily the most inspirational event on Friday was a sold out screening of WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED - a film about the Tillery Resettlement Community in Halifax County, North Carolina. As if the film's story of struggle against racism and the demand for a rightful homeplace weren't powerful enough, the Joyful Sounds Gospel Choir delivered a handful of tearjerking spirituals that brought most of the audience to tears.

Certainly on the top of everyone's must-see list was Anton Corbijn's CONTROL - and the packed balconies at Thalian Hall stressed from the eager film and music fans who filled the audience to watch the tragic story of Ian Curtis. I even encouraged my dad to see this film - he's an attorney whose never heard of Joy Division, and he loved it! A big thanks to my friend Matt Hulse for insisting that this film be part of my Scottish experience this year at the Edinburgh Film Festival.

OK, so there was also something else going on during the first three days of Cucalorus 13. A little something called the Superkiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiids! No shit. They just started happening. A little bit on day one, here and there. But by Friday, anyone who wasn't too busy looking at themselves in the mirror or worrrying that they were too important to be at a quirkridden festival like Cucalorus had noticed that something amazing was happening all around them. Part comedy routine, part performance art, part total freakin wackfest, this laugh-tagious duo brought a new level of irreverence and fun to Cucalorus. From a homemade Ouija board to an impromptu birthday party for Seth Wochensky (whose birthday is sometime in December?), the Superkiiiiiiids kept everyone on their toes and busting a gut. The Superkiiiiids were the refreshing towellete that kept Cucalorus clean and moist for four days straight. Did someone say breath mint? Maybe next year!

I'll dispense with any more play-by-play analysis. Anyone who attended the festival in its entirety was so buzzed by Saturday that an entirely new atmosphere seemed to surround the day's events. Maybe you'd fallen in love with a pair of Polish eyes from Current or maybe you'd had a full dose of Stefano and the Superkiiiiiiids, but whatever your memory or your moment, you were a part of something. You'd forgotten about why, when, how many and how much, and you'd started belonging to a new family of creative spirits, a group of people who still think that change is possible and that the world is a great place, despite the killing and killing for money. So on Saturday night, in downtown Wilmington, when two white kids started rapping with scarves on their heads, you didn't wonder what the fu??? Instead you stood up and waved your pinky in the air. Didn't you? And then, two moments later, when an Italian man on his first trip to America joined a college student beat boxin' - you stared in wonder at what we have become. We are Cucalorus. No more, no less.

Thanks to all you sukkers out there who joined Cucaloria.
13 is in the books, but 14 is in the works. Bring it on!
And to those who rokk, thanks, you know who you are. So smile awhile for me!
Holy fatcats! Cucalorus just got superkiiiiided.

Dan's pikks 3:
Hey festy friends. I've gotten a little backed up on my time staring at this little machine here - with over 90 filmmakers in attendance I'm getting to meet all the great makers whose films we've been raving about at Jengo's in the past several months. So my time has been well spent. If you haven't made it out yet, today's the day!

I'm getting started at Thalian with breakfast at the cafe (yeah, they've got breakfast too!) and then heading in to see FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO. Despite Ben Steelman's slam, I think this is one of the best films in the festival. No one is telling this side of the story and the film does a great job of analyzing some of the historical mis-interpretations in the bible. Abominations are great!

In order to save a little time, the rest of my picks will be brief:
WE ARE TOGETHER - audience award winner in Edinburgh, playing with the best short in the fest I WANT TO BE A PILOT

WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED - a great North Carolina story, massive gospel activity before and after

WAITER - just damn funny, and then it gets funnier and then your face hurts from so much funny - like a European Superkiiiiid

THE LEGACY - I'm becoming a big fan of Gela Babluani, had odd thriller in Cuc 12 called 13 TZAMETI

CHIAYI SYMPHONY - Stefano Giannotti is the biggest hit of Cucalorus 13, you gotta meet this awesome man from Italy

RIBEYE SHORTS - horror and hacking in Meg Lansaw's favorite block of the fest!

See you guys at the moooooovies!
And watch out for the Superkiiiiiiiiiiids!
Dan's Pikks III
Cucalorus gets a running start this year with screenings all day on Wednesday. The first screening of Cuc 13 will be our annual showcase of fest shorts held for area high school students. This free screening includes the best of the festival in terms of short films with filmmakers in attendance. Big thanks to the Landfall Foundation for sponsoring this year's edition of the student screenings.

Fittingly, the first public screening takes place at our quirky homebase, Jengo's Playhouse. With a new screen, a newly installed (digizoom!!) 6000 lumens DLP projector and a few secrets up its sleeve, Wilmington's only micro-cinema must be on everyone's list of Cucalorus activities. Tenderloin Shorts hits the screen at 11AM on Wednesday and includes the Golden Palm (Cannes) winner THE OATES VALOR. Another impressive short in this batch is Mark Craig's TALK TO ME which consists of a collection of old phone machine messages. When this one started, I didn't think it would draw me in. I kept thinking, I don't even like listening to my own phone messages. But Mark's friends, their messages and the way he cuts them together, makes for an amazing little narrative.

If you time it right, you can catch the Cucalorus shuttle down to Thalian in time to sneak in for THE LITTLE BOOK OF REVENGE - a smart, dark comedy that has all the appeal of a blockbuster without the cardboard characters and cliches. If you want to get your eyes on the opener for our highly anticipated Racial Rewind series, drop into Thalian Black for Jeremy Dean's DARE NOT WALK ALONE. I'll probably pick up a bite to eat on the mezzanine lobby - testing the festival cafe's savory offerings.

One of my favorite films in the festival is Alex Gibney's TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE. It'll make you so mad that you'll need a couple of shots of Tuaca to calm you down. Gibney disects the White House's torture campaign, looking at Afghanistan and Iraq as examples of the warmongers handiwork. A brief trip to Guantanamo Bay includes a visit to the gift shop, where you can buy Gitmo hats, T-shirts and sweats. WOW!

At 7:30pm on the main stage, Dance-A-Lorus reigns supreme. The third edition of this premier collaboration between choreographers and filmmakers promises to be more polished and precise than ever before. But if you'd rather stick to film, don't miss HOCHHAUS, a mini-feature from a German film student with high production values and great performances.

At 9pm, our Kickoff Carnival begins at Riverfront Park. Nate Lee's surf flick BAGGAGE will get things started, followed by eclectic muscial samplings from Matt Malloy, Stefano Giannotti and Ron Franklin. You'll have to come down to the river to find out if we've really gotten a ferris wheel. If we do, I'll be on it all night long!

At Midnight, Jengo's Playhouse will present Anders Morgenthaler's PRINCESS. This film hasn't played much outside of Europe, but it's full of eye-popping animation that you'll have to see to believe. Get a ticket to this screening while you can - with only 70 seats I'm sure this one will fill up fast. A little secret for all you blog readers - you can buy tickets online for Jengo's screenings - even though it says you can't in the magazine. Just go to a film's description and clikk on the buy tickets button. There are only 25 advance tickets for Jengo's screenings.

I'll try to pitch in again tomorrow with my picks for Saturday.
Until then, here are 4 filmmakers who rokk on Wednesday:
Amy Belling - THE SADDEST BOY IN THE WORLD (screens with HOCHHAUS)
Nikias Chryssos - HOCHHAUS (Nikias couldn't make it to the fest, but he still rokks)
Nathan Daniel - THE MANTIS (Tenderloin Shorts)