7 can't-miss movies at this year's Calgary International Film Festival

This year's iteration of the Calgary International Film Festival will mark 20 years of the annual event, and organizers have stacked the 12-day schedule with 200 movies to mark the occasion.

From award hopefuls to local premieres, here's your guide to Calgary's biggest party in film

Renée Zellweger is drawing significant buzz for her performance as Judy Garland in Judy, playing during this year's Calgary International Film Festival. (Submited by Calgary International Film Festival)

This year's iteration of the Calgary International Film Festival will mark 20 years of the annual event, and organizers have stacked the 12-day schedule with 200 movies to mark the occasion. 

The full schedule includes plenty of Alberta-made productions, award-season hopefuls and crowd-pleasing special events. 

But as a primer, here are seven films that pop off the schedule as "must-see."


Frankie, the latest feature from indie favourite Ira Sachs, lacks no shortage of star power — among others, the film features Marisa Tomei, Greg Kinnear and Brendan Gleeson.

But the film's secret weapon is French actress Isabelle Huppert, who in 2016's Elle proved to North American audiences what French audiences have known for years: she is a force to be reckoned with. 

Frankie's cast will surely propel this film forward, too, as it follows the journey of a beloved French actress (Huppert) who discovers she does not have long to live.


Renee Zellweger bursts out the gate as a striking manifestation of Judy Garland in the simply titled biopic Judy, screening Sept. 20 and 21 at the festival. 

The Jerry Maguire star has been relatively quiet over the past number of years, appearing in only five films since 2010.

Judy seems likely to reverse that trend, as Zellweger already is drawing significant Oscar buzz for her portrayal of the late American actress and singer.

The Song of Names

This year's opening gala, The Song of Names, is an emotional adaptation of the novel of the same name by Norman Lebrecht. 

Starring Tim Roth and Clive Owen, the film was directed by French-Canadian director François Girard. 

Girard's previous work includes The Red Violin, nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2000 Golden Globes.

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool

Music will be a primary theme of this year's Calgary International Film Festival, including a series of films scheduled to screen at the National Music Centre.

But among the "coolest" features planned for this year's festival is Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, a deep dive into the life of the legendary jazz musician. 

Featuring archival footage and interviews with significant individuals in Davis's career (including Herbie Hancock, Carlos Santana and The Roots), this doc is certain to strike a vibe at the festival.

The Specials

The Specials is the latest feature from Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano, the filmmakers behind the acclaimed 2012 comedy The Intouchables (remade into the less-acclaimed Bryan Cranston/Kevin Hart vehicle The Upside in 2017).

The Specials appears to share the warmth and inspiration found in The Intouchables, following the journey of two friends who care for those with autism. 


The latest film from a fascinating writer and director (Bong Joon-ho, the mind behind Okja and Snowpiercer), Parasite is among your top-shelf choices at this year's Calgary International Film Festival.

Winner of the prestigious Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival for 2019, Parasite is a cracking social commentary that may end up ranking as the director's best.


Among the few storied indies in Calgary history (the 2002 cult classic FUBAR also comes to mind), director Gary Burns's Waydowntown triumphantly returns to the Calgary International Film Festival having opened the first edition in 2000.

Set in downtown Calgary, Waydowntown is a dark comedy following a group of office workers who place a bet to see which of them can survive the longest without going outside the Plus-15 system and the buildings it connects.

The 2019 Calgary International Film Festival runs Sept. 18 to 29. For a full schedule, visit


Joel joined CBC Calgary in 2019. Reach him by email at


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