Cucalorus Festival

Wednesday, Nov. 7–Sunday, Nov. 11, $50+

Various venues, Wilmington

The annual Cucalorus Festival has maintained a strong presence for independent film in Wilmington since 1994, and it’s going to take more than the weather to stop it now. The festival is proceeding as scheduled for five days starting November 7, and as always, there’s much more to it than film. There’s Dance-a-lorus, a live stage event pairing filmmakers and choreographers. There’s a tech-and-entrepreneurship conference, Connect. And then there’s just the party spirit, from an opening concert by Superchunk to the closing-night karaoke costume dance, perfect for some post-hurricane celebration.

The members of Superchunk are far from the only Triangle residents heading east for the festival. You won’t want to miss Durham stalwart Rodrigo Dorfman’s latest film, This Taco Truck Kills Fascists, which was just named “Best Louisiana Feature” by the New Orleans Film Festival. In the film, Dorfman follows José Torres-Tama’s efforts to convert a basic taco truck into a revolutionary rolling theater that will travel the U.S.

“I started wanting to do this film because I wanted to get on that truck,” Dorfman explains. “Who doesn’t want to join a taco-truck theater? It was going to be a road movie.”

But soon, Dorfman found himself making a film about family, digging into the story of Torres-Tama’s struggle to fit his defiant dream around the challenges of raising two sons. The documentary turned into a film about parenting in the age of Trump.

 “At the end of film, the truck is going off into the heart of America,” Dorfman says. “In a way, the film ends in the way I wanted it to begin, as a fantastical American road trip.”

Cucalorus also hosts a pair of short docs by UNC students, Silence Sam and Silenced Sam, which take place before and after protesters pulled down the Confederate statue on UNC’s campus. The film is part of a discussion called Monumental Transformations: Community Art in the South. The panelists will discuss the historical context and ethical conflicts of communicating history through memorials.

Lana Garland, the curator of this year’s Hayti Heritage Film Festival in Durham, also takes on issues of race and personal response to history in the Cucalorus works-in-progress series. Garland will show preliminary pieces of The Reservoir Series, which draws together short films by and about African Americans across the country and addresses the need to overcome the feelings of hopelessness and despair that have emerged in the face of police violence.

The Reservoir is a lifeline and love song for my people and community who are sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Garland says.

Two towering North Carolinians, musician Rhiannon Giddens and author John Jeremiah Sullivan, seem to speak directly to Garland’s challenge in When the Battle’s Over: Songs of 1898. The performance commemorates the 120th anniversary of “the only forceable takeover of a constitutionally elected government in our nation’s history,” infamously known as The Wilmington Massacre (learn more about it in Chris Everett’s 2015 documentary Wilmington on Fire). Giddens and Sullivan will alternate between a discussion of their research on spirituals of the 1890s and Giddens singing. After the show, there will be community march from the concert hall, past the Confederate monument to the 1898 Memorial, led in song by Giddens.

If you never saw Giddens and her former fellow Carolina Chocolate Drops, Dom Flemons and Justin Robinson, when they were busking in Durham and playing the farmers-market circuit with their mentor, Joe Thompson, you can catch them on Sunday morning in the Southern premiere of John Whitehead’s Don’t Get Trouble in Your Mind. Whitehead was there when the Drops first met Thompson at the 2005 Black Banjo Gathering.

“I was just working with a small camera and looking for an interesting story,” he says. Captivated by the young musicians and their old-time mentor, Whitehead followed them home. It was a good story, but, not sure where it was going, he put it in a drawer.

Nobody from around here needs to guess what happened next. The Drops took off. The Drops got famous. The Drops broke up. Whitehead captured the whole arc. We see the Drops get their Grammy just as Robinson decides this is not his musical destiny. Flemons struggles to choose between touring with the Drops and his desire to work on his own, digging more deeply into old-time musical history. In the end, he decides to leave the group, and Giddens  moves on into her own solo career.

This is just the tip of the Cucalorus iceberg. It’s a wide-open festival with films that range from drama to comedy, and its roots in the Wilmington movie scene give it a professional panache and variety that is unusual in small festivals. Collect a group of friends, and head down to Wilmington for the day, for two days, or the whole weekend—it is the beach, after all.